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DeJean’s fourth-quarter punt-return TD lifts Iowa over Michigan State 26-16

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Cooper DeJean’s 70-yard punt return with less than four minutes to play helped give Iowa a 26-16 win over Michigan State on Saturday night.

Iowa’s Ethan Hurkett recovered a fumble by Michigan State wide receiver Tre Mosley on the Spartans’ next possession to help clinch the win for the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten), who lost starting quarterback Cade McNamara to a left leg injury in the first quarter and trailed 16-10 early in the second half before rallying.

“I feel like we learned a lot about our team today,” said linebacker Jay Higgins, who led the Hawkeyes with 12 tackles. “It was our first time being down to an opponent, and then coming back (to win). We did a great job of staying together.”

“The bigger story right now is the resilience you saw from all of our players,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “At the end of the day, that can win a lot of football games.”

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With the score tied at 16, DeJean fielded Ryan Eckley’s punt near the center of the field and immediately cut to the left sideline, where he shook off three Michigan State tacklers before heading down the sideline for the touchdown with 3:45 to play.

“I don’t know if the punt was supposed to be in that location, but there was a lot of green in front of me,” DeJean said. “It’s my job to read those blocks and put it in the end zone.”

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DeJean said the decision to go left came from film study during the week.

“We knew what their formations were and what the punt was supposed to be,” DeJean said. “When I caught it where I was, I knew I had a chance with all that green in front of me.”

“Any time No. 3 gets the ball, I just look at the end zone,” Higgins said. “You don’t want to see him in space. Coop, in space, equals good for the Hawkeyes.”

Iowa’s defense held the Spartans without an offensive point in the second half, and forced four turnovers a week after not getting any turnovers in a 31-0 loss at Penn State.

“I know I won’t get that question on Tuesday (Iowa’s media availability), getting asked about what’s wrong with the defense,” Higgins joked.

Backup quarterback Deacon Hill threw for 115 yards after taking over for McNamara, who was injured scrambling out of the end zone on the second play of Iowa’s second drive of the game. McNamara, who missed most of last season at Michigan with a right knee injury, fell at Iowa’s 2-yard line, and was helped from the field, favoring his left leg.

Hill threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Erick All in the first half.

“I’m impressed with the way Deacon stepped into a tough situation, and did a really good job leading our football team,” Ferentz said.

Drew Stevens had four field goals for Iowa, including a 34-yarder with 59 seconds left to play for the final margin.

Cal Haladay returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown, and Jonathan Kim kicked three field goals for the Spartans (2-3, 0-2), who were playing their first game since head coach Mel Tucker was fired on Wednesday.

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“With all of the distractions and everything going on, I can’t fault our effort,” Michigan State acting head coach Harlon Bennett said. “We just needed to be more disciplined, with the turnovers and the penalties (10 for 94 yards).”

Michigan State’s Nathan Carter rushed for 108 yards.

THE TAKEAWAY

Michigan State: The events of the week didn’t seem to bother the Spartans, who were effective with a short passing attack on offense early in the game while taking advantage of Iowa’s inability to move the ball. But the Spartans didn’t provide much of a threat for Iowa’s defense in the second half. “This is the first game since I’ve been in this position where we’ve been leading in a game, and feeling good,” Bennett said. “We couldn’t finish it at the end.”

Iowa: The Hawkeyes had high hopes for an offensive revival when McNamara transferred in during the offseason, but they’ll have to look to an inexperienced Hill to lead the offense if McNamara’s injury is serious. Ferentz said the extent of McNamara’s injury won’t be known until early next week.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: At Rutgers on October 14.

Iowa: Hosts Purdue next Saturday.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll