Fast start lifts Michigan State to 17-10 win over Iowa

Iowa’s Brandon Smith (12) fumbles as he is tackled by a pair of Michigan State tacklers Saturday.

AP PHOTO

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Time has taught Kirk Ferentz which buttons to push to get his Iowa football team to move beyond its first 0-2 start in the Big Ten since 2008.

The panic button is not among them.

“I think we just have to go back to work,’’ the Iowa coach said following Saturday’s 17-10 loss at Michigan State. “I don’t know if we need to hit the panic button, but we do need to hit the improve button. That’s what we need to do right now.’’

The Hawkeyes could list 101 things to work on, the sum total of Iowa’s rushing efforts in its last two games, but improvement starts with greater cohesion and consistency.

Ferentz said the Hawkeyes can expect to hear plenty about ball security as well, although he said Iowa has run more ball security drills this season than at any point in his 19 seasons.

After fumbling four times at Spartan Stadium, losing two, an even greater emphasis is likely.

“You can’t give the ball away and expect to be successful,’’ tight end T.J. Hockenson said.

Players get that they hold the answers to the multitude of questions they must deal with after Penn State and Michigan State took the shine off of Iowa’s 3-0 start.

“It’s up to us to get it figured out, get it fixed and move forward,’’ offensive lineman Sean Welsh said. “The thing that is tough to take is the loss. Whether it’s by two points or 20, it’s a loss and when you are only guaranteed 12 games, you want to do anything you can to avoid them.’’

Ferentz will likely use the 2008 team as an example this week.

That team also started 3-0, but lost its next three games by a total of nine points.

Iowa went on win six of its last seven games, ending a 9-4 season with a win over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.

Ferentz understands there are no guarantees as this Hawkeye team reaches a pivotal moment as it nears the midpoint of its schedule.

“That season (in 2008) turned out just fine, but it was a little bit like that, where we had some young players that had to gain traction,’’ Ferentz said.

“Those three losses were all close losses. These losses, we’ve had two close losses back to back. … We just need to focus on what we can do over the next six days to get better as a team.’’

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