Mississippi State vs Iowa
January 1, 2019
Scouting: Bulldogs vs. Hawkeye
KEYS TO VICTORY
Mississippi State needs to establish its offense early against Iowa’s stout defense much the same way other SEC teams have done during bowl games thus far. The Bulldogs were better offensively down the stretch during the regular season and need that to carry over into today.
Avoiding turnovers may seem obvious but interceptions have fueled the Hawkeyes’ defense all season. Iowa picked off 18 passes during the regular season, which was tied with Boston College and Maryland for the most in the nation.
Turn ’em loose
Today will be the final collegiate game for 21 MSU players, a dozen of which are starters. Those guys should be flying all around the field in an attempt to hoist one more trophy before their time in maroon and white is over.
WHAT TO WATCH
When MSU has the ball
The Bulldogs have not lost an offensive fumble all season and have gone five-straight games without an interception. State is averaging 402 yards and 29.1 points per game.
Iowa ranks seventh nationally in total defense, limiting opponents to only 289.6 yards and 17.4 points. The Hawkeyes also force two turnovers per game on average along with 2.8 sacks.
When Iowa has the ball
The Hawkeyes averaged 31.5 points per game this season, including an astounding 42.8 points away from home. Iowa threw for 227.7 yards and rushed for 160 per game during the regular season.
T.J. Hockenson vs. MSU pass defense
The Hawkeyes have the nation’s best tight end in T.J. Hockenson. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound sophomore leads the team with 46 catches for 717 yards and six touchdowns and also has a rushing score to his credit this season.
The Bulldogs did a solid job earlier this season against another top tight end Jace Sternberger of Texas A&M, limiting him to just two catches for 13 yards, and will need a similar effort to keep Hockenson in check today.
Outback Bowl matchups
Nick Fitzgerald – the SEC’s all-time leading rusher at the position – concludes his collegiate career today and enters the game with 9,559 yards of offense and 99 total touchdowns.
Nate Stanley’s 23 touchdown passes are the third-most in the Big Ten this season.
Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill says he’s feeling 100 percent for the first time in a long time and is coming off a 108 yard game in the Egg Bowl.
Iowa’s Mekhi Sargent has eclipsed the century mark in his last two games, including a career-high 173 in his last outing against Nebraska.
The Hawkeyes feature Mackey Award winner T.J. Hockenson but will be without fellow tight end Noah Fant, who elected to sit out of today’s game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
The Bulldogs’ sixth-leading receiver Keith Mixon will also be missing today after skipping the bowl due to personal reasons.
Iowa has only surrendered 13 sacks, the fewest in the Big Ten, and starts three sophomores.
State starts three upperclassmen on its interior line.
The Bulldogs have two projected NFL first round draft picks in Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons that have combined for 28 tackles for loss this year.
Defensive ends A.J. Epensesa and Anthony Nelson are tied for the Big Ten lead with 9.5 sacks apiece for the Hawkeyes.
Due to Iowa’s traditional offense, Mississippi State is expected to play more three linebacker sets than it has for much of the season.
The Hawkeyes only allow 3.1 yards per carry and have surrendered just seven rushing touchdowns all year.
Iowa was tied for the most interceptions in the country with 18 during the regular season led by Amani Hooker and Geno Stone with four each.
The Bulldogs picked off a dozen passes as a team but no individual player had more than two.
The Hawkeyes had the top two returners in the Big Ten in kick returner Ihmir Smith-Marsette and punt returner Kyle Groeneweg.
Deddrick Thomas will be pulling double duty in the return game for MSU in Mixon’s absence.