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Bryce Miller: Bye week will help Hawkeyes, injuries after painful loss

[ 0 ] October 5, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. -  Iowa finally felt the sting of a Big Ten-sized knuckle sandwich planted directly on its jaw — with flurries of punches to the arms, legs and any other parts of the human anatomy Michigan State swung toward.

The bodies drooped and dropped all game long during a 26-14 loss Saturday to Michigan State.

Top rusher Mark Weisman left after seven carries, while No.1 receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley found a spot on the bench before he could extend his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 24.

Iowa linebacker James Morris (44) helped lead the Iowa defense against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes fell short, 26-14. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Register)

Iowa linebacker James Morris (44) helped lead the Iowa defense against Michigan State on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes fell short, 26-14. (Bryon Houlgrave/The Register)

Dominic Alvis, Brandon Scherff, Carl Davis, Christian Kirksey and James Morris all were turf-bound or hobbling at some point, as well.

What’s it mean for Iowa? Even though none of the bumps and bruises are being characterized as serious, it shows that the Hawkeyes can ill afford to lose key players — even for a series here, a series there — in swing games like this.

Iowa is miles better than the team that won four games a season ago, but everyone learned that the team’s margin of error remains narrow.

“The bad news certainly is that we had to have a lot of guys come out of the game,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But the good news is it looks like thus far that everything’s pretty minor. The bye week probably comes at a good time.

“Hopefully, all those guys will be back full speed.”

Iowa out-muscled Minnesota in the conference opener on the road, but the Spartans showed — as expected — that there’s another level of pain and punishment in this league.

Michigan State’s defense, ranked No.1 in the nation, swallows ball carriers like Joey Chestnut inhales hot dogs on the Coney Island boardwalk. Iowa played nearly 25 minutes against Sparty without a first down. It felt longer.

When Michigan State punter Mike Sadler ran 25 yards on a fake punt on the first play of the fourth quarter, he out-rushed Iowa for the entire day (23).

For a team like Iowa that hoped to establish firm footing after it assembled a mildly buoying 4-1 record entering the week, the “injuries happen” line is as scary as it is true. Remember a season ago, when Scherff and Andrew Donnal tumbled to the turf against Penn State? Iowa had to wait nearly 11 months to win again.

Scherff, Davis and Morris all returned to the game, while Kirksey jogged along the sideline without any signs of pain as the game clocked melted down. The most concerning of the dings and dents, reading between the lines, is Martin-Manley, who wasn’t available to media after the game.

“Most of the stuff we have is either muscle, mild sprains, those types of things,” said Ferentz, who included Weisman’s ankle injury in that category.

Other than the cranky hamstring of Jordan Lomax, who returned for the first time since a season-opening loss to Northern Illinois, Iowa tip-toed through its first five games almost injury-free.

Against the Spartans, though, Iowa created its own M*A*S*H unit.

“We have a bye week coming up, so we have enough time to rest,” said defensive back B.J. Hunnicutt, er, Lowery. “We’re in the Big Ten — and everything is physical, (but) that’s probably one of the toughest teams, right there.”

Morris contended that Iowa’s 2012 win in rain-soaked Spartan Stadium was more body-taxing because Mother Nature’s playbook benched the passing games.

“The way I would describe this game is ‘sticky’ — sticky is a good word,” Morris said of this lap against the Spartans. “Every play out there was contested, on both sides. I don’t think we gave them many plays, but the plays we gave them hurt us big-time.”

No one should have been surprised at Michigan State’s puncher persona. You could almost hear former NFL coach Dennis Green famously ranting, “They are who we thought they were!” as the Spartans lived up to their billing.

The bye week should be enough to soothe most health concerns for Iowa. But is being healthy enough to be optimistic about a trip to Columbus? Against this year’s Buckeye team? Probably not.

That’s what made the rough-and-tumble loss to the Spartans so important. Instead of being 5-1 with Purdue still waiting at the door to bowl eligibility, Iowa will be forced to win at least twice in its final six games. The Hawkeyes probably will be favored just once over that half-dozen.

Michigan State provided the Hawkeyes a chance to show they truly had turned a corner after a season that ended with six straight losses.

Now, with a limp here and an ice bag there, everyone’s left to wonder about the health of something else — the season.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

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