Hawkeyes continue their search for offense

Iowa’s defense gave the Hawkeyes plenty of opportunities to score, but the offense could not capitalize for most of the game.

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Hawkeyes continue their search for offense

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) attempts to recover a fumble forced by Michigan State's Joe Bachie during the game between Iowa and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Spartans with a final score of 10-17. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) attempts to recover a fumble forced by Michigan State's Joe Bachie during the game between Iowa and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Spartans with a final score of 10-17. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photo by Ben Sm

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) attempts to recover a fumble forced by Michigan State's Joe Bachie during the game between Iowa and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Spartans with a final score of 10-17. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photo by Ben Sm

The Daily Iowan; Photo by Ben Sm

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) attempts to recover a fumble forced by Michigan State's Joe Bachie during the game between Iowa and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Spartans with a final score of 10-17. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Adam Hensley, [email protected]

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Iowa’s defense mostly held its ground against Michigan State on Sept. 30, just as it did on Sept. 23 against No. 4 Penn State.

Similar to that game, the Hawkeyes couldn’t create anything on offense for most of the game, and the result showed it.

“The defense, [it’s] always doing [its] job to keep us in it,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “We just got to execute better.”

The Hawkeyes ran for 19 yards on Sept. 30.

Let that sink in for a moment. A team averaging 180 rushing yards through its first three games couldn’t muster 20 yards on the ground.

As a team, Iowa averaged 0.8 yards per rushing attempt.

“It wasn’t even about [Michigan State],” Wadley said. “It was about us not executing.”

The Hawkeyes fumbled the ball four times, committed seven penalties, and converted merely four of their 14 third-down attempts.

Iowa’s only touchdown of the game came on the ground — Wadley’s 9-yard touchdown scamper after a 10-play, 72-yard drive. Almost a third of Iowa’s total offensive yards came on that drive in the first possession of the second quarter.

Wadley carried the ball 17 times, netting 30 yards (1.8 yards per carry). Fellow tailback Ivory Kelly-Martin and quarterback Nate Stanley combined for minus-9 rushing yards.

The running game is Iowa’s bread and butter; head coach Kirk Ferentz bases his team’s approach on it, even if he’s not the one necessarily calling plays, and it can open up the passing game.

“We have to find balance,” he said. “We’ll work on that this week. Certainly, that’ll be at the top of the list — that and ball security.”

Twice, Iowa fumbled in Michigan State territory, smothering any sort of offensive spark.

RELATED: Iowa football drops second straight; loses at Michigan State

On the second half’s opening kickoff, the Hawkeyes marched down the field, making their way to the Spartan 7-yard line. Stanley escaped a pocket full of pressure but fumbled the ball untouched.

“That looked like a freak play,” Ferentz said. “[We] just have to play through those things.”

The defense held Michigan State after the Spartans recovered Stanley’s fumble, resulting in a turnover on downs. Iowa traveled down the field once again, only to fumble on Michigan State’s 30-yard line.

Still, the defense held tough, holding the Spartans scoreless for the rest of the game.

Iowa had five drives in the second half: the two fumbles, a field goal, a punt, and then as the game clock expired.

Iowa settled for 3 points after Nick Easley couldn’t come down with a catchable ball on the Michigan State 25. On Iowa’s next drive, the receiver dropped another third-down pass, this time deep in Iowa territory.

Stanley, who finished 16-of-32 with 192 yards and an interception, didn’t associate Iowa’s offensive woes with a heartbreak hangover from the previous weekend.

“I think that’s something we address throughout practice all week,” he said. “We wanted to come out and play physical right from the start, but give credit to [Michigan State].”

In Iowa’s two losses this season, Stanley completed 53 percent of his passes for 383 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception.

The past two games have been a steep dropoff in comparison with his 65 percent completion rate, 333 yards, and 5 touchdowns (no turnovers) against Iowa State on Sept. 9.

“I don’t think anybody is ready to hit the panic button,” Ferentz said. “We need to hit the improve button.”

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