Iowa Football vs Michigan State

Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) catches a touchdown pass against the Michigan State Spartans Saturday, November 7, 2020 at Kinnick Stadium. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa football Coach Kirk Ferentz was presented the game ball after Saturday’s 49-7 victory over Michigan State. His reaction was, as expected, low key with a sprinkle of self depreciation.

“It probably means I’ve been here a while, right?” Ferentz said after passing Penn State’s Joe Paterno and moving into fourth for victories at a Big Ten school with 163. “You know, that stuff is great. And I promise you, it wasn’t prominent in my mind. We needed to play well. That’s what we needed to do.”

That milestone would have been reached earlier had Iowa not lost the first two games of this shortened season in disappointing fashion, 80 minutes of missed opportunities against Purdue and Northwestern. 

If this Iowa team took the field with the weight of the world on their collective shoulders, it didn’t show against the Spartans. The offense started the game in rhythm, keeping Michigan State’s defense off balance and guessing.

The run-pass balance was back to where it needed to be. Quarterback Spencer Petras made strides and got his first victory as Iowa’s starter. Phil Parker’s defense was back to it’s stingy best against his alma mater.

Iowa played like a team that wasn’t stuck on the should-of, could-of first two weeks of the season. The Hawkeyes looked like a team that had turned the page and invested their energy in trying to get better.

“We embraced everything,” offensive tackle Alaric Jackson said. “We looked forward to another game. We weren’t thinking about the past. We did that all week and it showed (against Michigan State).”

And that page was turned again at Sunday’s film session, where the good and bad were analyzed. Another week, another chance to get better.

It will be a short week, too. The battle for Floyd of Rosedale takes place Friday in Minneapolis, Minn. Ferentz said after the game that his team will have to “transition fast,” a six-day window to prepare to beat Minnesota for a record sixth straight time.

This is the fifth time an Iowa team has had an opportunity to drink a Minnesota six-pack. The Hawkeyes have won 15 of the last 19 games in the series, including seven of the last eight.

Petras could have used the spring practice that didn’t happen because of the pandemic. The reps would have been invaluable. He’s been forced to learn on the fly instead. And Sunday’s film sessions have been an invaluable tool in his progression as a Big Ten quarterback.

He sees the good and the bad. Plays he was happy he made. Plays where he wishes he would have over. His pocket presence is better. His touch on shorter passes needs to improve. 

“It’s important, as a young guy, just trying to soak up as much as I can,” Petras said.

Michigan State managed just 59 yards rushing in 32 attempts against Iowa, and carrying over that success would come in handy on Friday.

Minnesota also won its first game of the season, a 41-14 decision at Illinois. The Gophers rushed for 325 yards in that game, and Mohamed Ibrahim had 224 of them. 

But quarterback Tanner Morgan can still throw it. And he’s got one of the best targets in the league in wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who had 10 catches for 139 yards against the Illini.

Ferentz is two victories shy of becoming the fourth coach to win at least 100 Big Ten Conference games. Woody Hayes of Ohio State tops that list with 153, 10 more than Bo Schembecher of Michigan. Amos Alonzo Stagg of Chicago had 115 league wins.

Hayes also heads the list of most overall wins while coaching at a Big Ten school with 205. Stagg had 199 and Schembechler 194. 

Ferentz is in his 22nd Big Ten season. Stagg coached 37 seasons, Hayes 28 and Schembechler 21.

Stagg was forced out by the president at Chicago in 1932, at 70 years of age. Hayes was 65 when he was fired for swinging at Clemson’s Charlie Bauman after he intercepted a pass in the Tigers’ 17-15 victory in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Schembechler retired at 60 years of age.

Ferentz, the longest-tenured head football coach in the nation, remains an open book.

He’s 98-77 in Big Ten play. His first Big Ten game was a 49-3 loss to a Michigan State team coached by Nick Saban, a much different game than Saturday’s domination over the Spartans at Kinnick Stadium.

The record books, for now, are a distraction. Nothing more.

“Whenever I retire, whenever that day comes, hopefully it’s not for quite a while, although I’m sure some people are wondering about that, then we’ll sit around and talk about stuff like that,” Ferentz said. “It’s neat. But what’s more important is that we got the win (Saturday).”