EAST LANSING, Mich. – So much has changed. So little has changed.
As Iowa football players settled in to watch tape of the Michigan State team the Hawkeyes face at 3 p.m. today, it brings back memories of that December night in Indianapolis two seasons ago.
Tapes of the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game between the Iowa and Michigan State and the nine-minute drive that decided the black-and-blue 16-13 battle and ended the Hawkeyes hopes of a Big Ten title have been reviewed.
A handful of players who will be on the field at Spartan Stadium today contested that Big Ten championship two seasons ago.
The Spartans’ top running back, LJ Scott, finished off the 22-play, 82-yard game-winning drive by delivering a 1-yard dagger into the Hawkeyes’ hopes with 27 seconds left in the game.
The Hawkeyes’ Josey Jewell had eight tackles in the game that handed Iowa its first taste of defeat in 13 games that season.
Iowa’s playoff hopes were dashed. Michigan State marched on.
The teams haven’t met since and given the sameness of the Spartans’ approach to the game, tape of that last meeting with so much on the line has been among requirements for Hawkeyes to review this week.
“You fall asleep remembering those plays," Jewell said.
And, the Hawkeyes have been awakened this week during their 8 a.m. practice sessions to understand that Michigan State will likely be dishing out more of the same.
Offensive lineman Boone Myers sees new names but a similar approach as he studies the Spartans.
“Michigan State is pretty much Michigan State, you know what you’re going to get with them," Myers said. “They are who they are and they do what we do. We’re pretty much the same. I think that’s why it’s going to be a real good battle."
Two programs built on a foundation of physical strength and rock-solid core beliefs of running the football and stopping the run, neither team has reached 20 points in four of the eight games they have played since Mark Dantonio became the Spartans’ coach 11 seasons ago.
“Michigan State certainly has an identity and it’s worked pretty well for them. My guess is when they threw our stuff in (the tape machine), it probably didn’t look a lot different to them, either," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“The players have changed. There aren’t many guys left from the last time we played on either side of the ball for either team, but we do kind of look like each other. Ever since coach Dantonio got there, they’ve had a certain way they do things and it’s been really successful for them."
Success did elude the Spartans a year ago and rebounding from a 3-9 season filled with close losses on the field and distractions off of it is something Michigan State is trying to move beyond.
With 10 sophomores and two freshmen in the lineup, the 2-1 Spartans are rebuilding with a young team, and like Iowa, Michigan State is attempting to bounce back from its first loss of the season.
Three first-half turnovers led to Notre Dame touchdowns and a 28-7 halftime deficit for the Spartans a week ago in a 38-18 loss to the Fighting Irish, a scene that played out during the same hours a last-second Penn State touchdown pass forced the Hawkeyes to stomach a 21-19 loss to fourth-rated Penn State.
“We can’t let that linger. We have to push forward from that," Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “We don’t want to start 0-2 in the Big Ten."
Ferentz has said he likes the demeanor he has seen from the Hawkeyes on the practice field this week as it tries to forge ahead following Iowa’s first loss in four games this season.
Jewell echoed those sentiments.
“We need to come back with a strong performance this week. We did a lot of good things against Penn State and we can’t lose sight of that," he said. “We need to build on that and bring the same energy to this week’s game. If we do that, good things can happen."