EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State heads into Saturday's game against Iowa eager to start fast for a change.
The unranked Spartans (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) have more to worry about than the Iowa Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-0) as they try for their first back-to-back wins in the series in 34 years.
Mark Dantonio's program has had to rally for three of its four victories and has been outscored 34-20 in the first quarter. Playing much more like a program that is 26-7 since the start of the 2010 season, Michigan State has woken up to allow just 23 points in six second halves.
"What we'll do is try to change things up and bring it to our attention," Dantonio said Tuesday without being specific. "As long as you focus on that, good things have a chance of happening. But you have to make plays on the football field."
The Spartans trailed Boise State 13-10 at halftime and needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to win 17-13. They led Central Michigan just 7-0 after 15 minutes but took control from there for a 41-7 victory. Michigan State trailed Notre Dame 14-3 at the break and lost 20-3.
It trailed Eastern Michigan 7-6 late in the third quarter of its poorest performance, then shifted into gear to win 23-7. The Spartans trailed Ohio State 7-3 at halftime of its best game this season but still lost 17-16.
And they were down 17-0 after one quarter and 27-17 at halftime at Indiana before owning the last 30 minutes and escaping 31-27.
"I was very disappointed with this last week's slow start," Dantonio said. "I thought our football team was ready to play. I think Indiana had something to do with that, snapping the ball every 12 seconds. We got gassed and disoriented."
Michigan State stepped on the gas in the third and fourth quarters, outscoring the Hoosiers 17-0 and outgaining them 244-37. But it was a bigger scare than anyone expected.
"I wish there was a magic pill or a magic solution for slow starts, but there's not," quarterback Andrew Maxwell said. "It just comes down to execution. We really need to make it a point of emphasis. We don't want to fall behind like we did Saturday and have slow starts like we've had. But football is always about how you finish."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn't so much concerned about Michigan State's slow starts as he was its fast finish last weekend in Bloomington.
"This is a very talented football team right now, coming off, I think, a very impressive win," Ferentz said. "Falling behind and then coming back the way they did in that second half, really dominating the second half. To me, if you look at that half in itself, it gives you an indication of the kind of football team they have, the talent and potential they have."
Two years ago, the Spartans trailed 30-0 in Iowa City and lost 37-6, their only regular-season loss en route to a share of the Big Ten title.
Last season's matchup was the exact opposite. Michigan State grabbed a 31-7 halftime advantage in a 37-21 win.
Ferentz said he believes the Spartans showed their full potential in their last 30 minutes of football against Indiana.
"I think it says a lot about their team because typically, in the course of the season and with your best teams, you're going to go through games like that," Ferentz said. "They showed in the second half, I think, the kind of football team they have because they thoroughly outplayed -- just like they got outplayed in the first half, they flipped it around in the second half and did what they needed to do to be successful."
The Spartans will have to play without standout tight end Dion Sims this week. Paul Lang or Andrew Gleichert will take over there while Sims' sprained ankle heals. R.J. Williamson or Kurtis Drummond will be the starting free safety, with Jairus Jones moving to the backup strong safety role.