Iowa has an attractive bowl pairing once again this year, getting slotted to play in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on New Year’s Day. That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s not going to be an easy game.
The 8-4 Hawkeyes get a powerful Mississippi State team as its opponent. The Bulldogs, after some midseason struggles, have played well down the stretch to finish 8-4 as well. Their four losses were all against powerful foes, No. 1 Alabama, No. 1o Florida, No. 11 LSU and No. 14 Kentucky. Three of the four were on the road.
Here are five things to know about Mississippi State headed into the Outback Bowl:
First-ever trip to Tampa for Mississippi State
Mississippi State has never received an invitation to the Outback Bowl before, so you can expect a big turnout of Bulldog fans — and cowbells. Iowa always travels well too, so this should be a fun party. Expect the energy level for this game to be pretty high. The Bulldogs also have never played Iowa before. “It’s an unbelievable venue and opportunity,” Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said in a late Sunday. “It’s football paradise. Our fans are going to mobilize for Tampa, fill the stands and wear white.”
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead has Big Ten ties
First-year coach Joe Moorhead had been the Penn State offensive coordinator prior to replacing Dan Mullen in Starkville this year. He he tremendous success there, too, grooming quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, and helping the Lions win the Big Ten title in 2016.
And he has huge respect for Iowa’s defense
Mississippi State’s offense has been a bit of a disappointment this season. With a veteran quarterback r turning in Nick Fitzgerald, big things were expected of the Bulldogs, but that didn’t happen. Now here comes a stout Iowa defense that Moorhead knows well. He’s worried. “They have a very, strong physical (defensive) front,” Moorhead said. “The linebackers do a great job of playing downhill and attacking the run. They are very athletic on the back end and fundamentally sound. Everything they do, they do very well.”
Strong defense has been Bulldogs’ calling card all year
Mississippi State has the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, allowing only 12 points per game. And they’ve done that against a very difficult schedule. The Bulldogs held seven of its opponents to its lowest point totals of the season, including current No. 1 Alabama (24), No. 10 Florida (6) and No. 19 Texas A&M (13). That’s impressive in a year where offenses have taken over. This is going to be a huge challenge for the Iowa offense, which has struggled at times this season, especially running the ball.
Bulldogs are favorites for a reason in this game
The opening line has Mississippi State favored by four points in this game, and that’s no surprise at all. Sure they have four losses, but we’ve already showed you who they were to. In those eight wins, Mississippi State won all eight games by double digits. In their last four game, they had a 24-0 loss in there to Alabama, but in the other three games they only gave up a total of 12 points. You’re just not seeing that kind of defense anymore.