Iowa-MSU grades: Calhoun, Conklin star for Spartans
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Michigan State’s thrilling 16-13 Big Ten championship game win over Iowa:
Michigan State Spartans
–Star defensive end Shilique Calhoun (+6.2) played one of the best games of his season when it really mattered. Calhoun basically alone represented the Spartans’ pass rush for three quarters, and he contributed six of the Spartans’ 14 total pressures in the game. His two sacks, two quarterback hits and two quarterback hurries all led the Spartans defense. Calhoun also graded positively against the run and was able to make a tackle for no gain on the only snap when he dropped into coverage. Due to his versatility, it was no surprise that he was the only Michigan State defensive lineman who was on the field for all 55 snaps.
–Although quarterback Connor Cook (+0.8) was selected as the MVP of the Big Ten Championship Game, he did not have a very good game by his standards, nor overall. Accounting for drops, Cook was accurate on only 54.8 percent of his passes and failed to complete any of his two attempts 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He was quite average when throwing from a clean pocket, as 57.1 percent of such attempts were accurate, and he earned a PFF grade of +2.0 on these plays. However, things went really bad when he was under pressure. Cook had six dropbacks overall when he was affected by Iowa’s pass rush, and he failed to complete a pass on any of them, resulting in a grade of -2.0 on plays under pressure.
–A big factor in Cook not being under pressure on more than six dropbacks was the excellent play of his offensive linemen, who did not allow a single pressure throughout the game as all pressures were a result of the blocks of running backs and tight ends. In addition to their work in pass protection, the Spartans’ offensive line excelled in run blocking, too, as they had three players grade above +1.0 in this facet of the game. The unit was led by an exceptional performance from Jack Conklin (+11.5), one of the best left tackles in the country. He rarely missed a block and there were also plays when he blocked two defenders or blocked his man seven to eight yards downfield. The fact that Michigan State’s offensive line was able to push around Iowa’s front seven for the majority of the game helped the Spartans win the Big Ten Championship Game and also earned Conklin the highest grade of the game by far.
LT Jack Conklin (+11.5)
DE Shilique Calhoun (+6.2)
LG Brian Allen (+5.4)
LB Darien Harris (+4.9)
C Jack Allen (+2.7)
–Although Iowa’s front seven struggled, its cornerbacks, and Desmond King (+5.4) especially, lived up to the hype they received prior to the game. King was targeted four times and allowed only two receptions for 22 yards, with one of the catches going for no gain. In addition, he also knocked away a pass. After attempting a couple of passes towards King early in the game, the Spartans wisely decided to avoid the cornerback the rest of the way. King’s contributions did not only come in the passing game, but also against the run. Despite playing cornerback, King earned Iowa’s highest run-defense grade, as he came up to the line of scrimmage multiple times to stop runs for a short gain. While Michigan State did score on third-and-goal in the last minutes, King did all he could, as he made the tackles on the first two downs.
–Starting running back Jordan Canzeri (-0.1) had a solid start to the game before going down with an injury, as he gained 12 yards on only two carries. However, in his absence, Iowa really struggled to get the running game going. Iowa forced only three missed tackles on 19 runs, and one of those came by quarterback C.J. Beathard on a scramble. Backups LeShun Daniels Jr. (-0.5) and Akrum Wadley (+1.1), who received most of the carries with Canzeri on the sideline, managed to average only 1.8 and 0.8 yards after contact, respectively.
–With the struggles in the running game, the Hawkeyes had to turn to quarterback C.J. Beathard (+1.3) to lead the offense alone. Beathard actually put together a very solid performance and was accurate on 83.3 percent of his aimed passes, including 16 of his 17 attempts within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. There was, however, a visible drop-off when Beathard had to operate under pressure, as he completed only 50 percent of his passes and was also sacked on three of the nine occasions he felt the heat from the Michigan State pass rush. Iowa scoring only 13 points was less about the quarterback’s performance, but more about the lack of help he received from his supporting cast: Iowa wide receivers had one fumble and two dropped passes — one of which led to a costly interception in the end zone.
CB Desmond King (+5.4)
RG Jordan Walsh (+4.6)
DT Jaleel Johnson (+1.4)
K Marshall Koehn (+1.7)
QB C.J. Beathard (+1.3)