Year 1 of the Joe Moorhead Era for the Mississippi State Bulldogs will come to a close on the first day of 2019. The Bulldogs will make a rare appearance on New Year’s Day as they take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl.
The Hawkeyes come into this game with an 8-4 record and after a second-place finish in the Big Ten West. They looked to be in a great spot when they were 6-1 but lost three of their last five games, including an all-important one to the eventual B1G West Champions, the Northwestern Wildcats.
Iowa has put up points in bunches this season. Seven times in their 12 games, they hit over 30 points, with three games where they put up 40+. That included a 63-0 rout of the Illinois Fighting Illini in their penultimate game of the season. Their offense ranks 41st in the nation going into NYD in points per game, having put up 31.5 per game this season.
Nate Stanley and Mekhi Sargent have been front and center all season in the scoring department. Stanley has thrown 23 touchdown passes while Sargent has run for nine scores on the year. He has 10 total touchdowns, having picked up a receiving touchdown.
Stanley’s primary receiving target as far as touchdowns go has been Noah Fant . But Fant, like many high-end NFL Draft prospects, won’t be playing in the bowl game. So he will have to look to T.J. Hockenson most likely along with his other targets like Sargent, Nick Easley and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, among others. Not having Fant in the offense takes away a huge dynamic for the Hawkeyes, so that might play into Mississippi State’s hand as they have an elite defense.
You don’t have to be too much of an SEC footballhead to know how good State’s defense has been, and wiping out an NFL prospect like Fant could very well tip the scales here.
For State on offense, it all falls into how Nick Fitzgerald plays. The Hawkeyes boast the 10th-best scoring defense in the country, having allowed 17.4 points per game. Diving deeper, they rank 20th in S&P+ defense and they stack up well against both the pass and the run. Their opportunity and stuff rates do rank poorly and State’s ground game of Fitzgerald, Kylin Hill and Co. could have big days if they make the right moves. But it’s not going to be easy.
It’s especially not going to be easy when they throw the ball. Iowa’s defense hasn’t given up too much through the air this season. They also have the 2nd-ranked sack rate on passing downs. Their D-Line Havoc Rate, in particular, is sixth-best in the nation. Fitzgerald is going to have to look out for defensive ends Parker Hesse as well as Anthony Nelson and A.J. Epenesa, who lead the team in sacks with 9.5 each.
Conversely, Stanley is going to have State’s defensive linemen breathing down his neck, too. State ranks 5th in Havoc Rate, their DL ranks 9th, and 17th in Sack Rate on passing downs. Montez Sweat leads all with 11 sacks and they have plenty of disruptors all over the place, especially so in the secondary, as you may or may not imagine.
This game could very well be a real fun one if both teams play up to par. Be sure to tune in!
HOW TO WATCH
Time: 11 a.m. CT
Watch Online: WatchESPN