Iowa Football

Iowa-Mississippi State Game Report: Outback Bowl grades, stats, news and more

Iowa defensive back Jake Gervase runs an interception out of the end zone against Mississippi State in Tuesday's Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. (Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa defensive back Jake Gervase runs an interception out of the end zone against Mississippi State in Tuesday's Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. (Douglas DeFelice/USA TODAY Sports)

TAMPA, Fla. — A closer look at Iowa’s 27-22 win over No. 18 Mississippi State in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

Play of the Game

The Setup: If we can personify momentum for a second, we’d have to say it got pretty tired with all of the changing of the sides it did Tuesday during Iowa’s 27-22 Outback Bowl victory over Mississippi State.

Iowa had it with two TDs in 53 seconds in the first half. MSU started the second half with two TDs just 22 seconds apart.

With about 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs coaxed momentum to their sideline. A 34-yard completion helped them move quickly to Iowa’s 20 while trailing 24-22.

What happened: On first-and-10 from Iowa’s 20, MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald stepped up in the pocket to avoid the rush of Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa. He might’ve been trying for TE Justin Josson, but the ball went over his head as he broke open.

But no, wide receiver Stephen Guidry also broke open in front of safety Jake Gervase. The pass hit Guidry in the chest. It should’ve been a 29-24 MSU lead with almost nine minutes left in the game.

Didn’t go down that way.

The Result: The ball bounced off Guidry’s chest and into the air. Gervase was trailing and swooped in and gathered it in.

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Gervase returned the ball out of Iowa’s end zone to the Hawkeyes’ 28. The Hawkeyes drove 50 yards on six plays for Miguel Recinos’ 40-yard field goal. It gave Iowa its winning margin, 27-22, and took 2:51 off the clock.

Good and lucky come with no distinction in the box score.

Marc Morehouse

Grades

Marc Morehouse: A

Stick a dune buggy, a banana and a canned ham into the Ferentz blender and this is what comes out.

Mike Hlas: A-

The critics didn’t like this performance, but Hawkeye fans sure warmed to it the longer they watched.

Notes

— It was noon, Central time, and the millions of college football fans in America who had only the Outback Bowl to watch since 11 a.m. suddenly had two more options in the Fiesta and Citrus bowls.

Given that Mississippi State led Iowa 6-3 in the second quarter and the two offenses bore disturbing similarities to those in Oregon’s 7-6 Redbox Bowl win over Michigan State the day before, it’s safe to say a lot of remote controls were used to switch games in places like, well, Oregon and Michigan.

Those who changed channels missed a game that stopped on a dime, turning from somewhat mundane to slightly insane. It pretty much stayed that way.

You rush for minus-15 yards and end up with a 27 on the scoreboard and win the game? You cough up a 17-6 lead in all of 18 seconds, then bounce back to retake the lead and hang on by no more than a few threads?

Almost immediately after the clock struck 12, the Hawkeye flipped their own switch. Nate Stanley hit Nick Easley for a 75-yard touchdown pass, the longest scoring throw of Stanley’s career and longest career reception for Easley.

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That was with 7:55 left in the first half. Ninety-seven seconds later, after Iowa sophomore wunderkind defensive end A.J. Epenesa strip-sacked Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald at the MSU 13 and Iowa’s Chauncey Golston recovered, Stanley hit Brandon Smith for a 15-yard score.

Iowa led 17-6. It was the biggest surprise plot twist of the 2019 television season to date.

Then it was topped in the third quarter by Mississippi State when it scored two touchdowns within 18 seconds to regain the lead. The Hawkeyes had an interception returned to the Iowa 6 by Willie Gay Jr., before the first score, then fumbled away the subsequent kickoff return. On the next play, State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald ran 33 yards for the second TD with lots of game left to play.

After that, though, the only touchdown was Iowa’s, on another Stanley-to-Easley hookup six plays after the first career interception by defensive end Golston at the State 32.

The Iowa defensive play that probably saved the game? That was when Gervase grabbed the ball out of the air in the end zone after it hit Bulldog receiver Stephen Guidry in the hands.

Slightly insane, indeed.

— Should I stay or should I go now?

The Clash’s musical question lingers for three Hawkeyes who still have college eligibility remaining but are considering whether to become NFL early-entries.

Those in question are tight end T.J. Hockenson, safety/outside linebacker Amani Hooker and defensive end Anthony Nelson. All asked for evaluations from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee, which advises underclassmen on their draft prospects before they decide whether to formally request to join the league’s draft.

After Tuesday’s game, none of the three were committal about their plans.

“I’m going to sit on it for a few days,” Hockenson said. He was extremely emotional after the game, hugging teammates left and right.

“Whatever happens,” the John Mackey Award winner said, “I love the university and this team.”

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“I’m not sure yet,” said Hooker. “I’m going home to talk to my family about it.”

They may both be gone.

There is a mock draft for every Jet Ski in Tampa Bay. A consensus among them is that the 2019 draft is loaded with pass-rushers, something Nelson might consider. One who is seen as a first-round pick is Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat.

The only tight end who shows up consistently in the first round of mock drafts is recent Hawkeye Noah Fant.

— University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld was at the game and loving it.

“To finish this way just means everything,” Harreld said. “It’s one thing to beat Boston College (at last year’s Pinstripe Bowl). It’s another to beat Mississippi State of the SEC, a first-rate team, and beat them in the Iowa way with teamwork, dedication, zero penalties. That shows you how focused we were.

“This senior group is so special. They really made a difference. And they’re great students to top it all off.”

— How to remember you’re in a pro football market: Open the local newspaper on the day a bowl game is being held in its city.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired head coach Dirk Koetter Sunday. The headline on the Tuesday morning column of the Tampa Bay Times’ Martin Fennelly was “Licht should be gone,” referring to Bucs General Manager Jason Licht.

The main story on the front page of the sports section called Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston “blameless Jameis.”

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A preview of the Outback Bowl? That wasn’t until page 7, the last page of the section that contained sports news.

By the Numbers

Minus-15 — Iowa rushed for minus-15 yards. And won. Cray cray.

0 — The Hawkeyes didn’t commit any penalties. Mississippi State had eight for 90 yards.

2 — Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley had his first two-touchdown game.

3 — The Hawkeyes evened their Outback Bowl record to 3-3.

7 — This was the seventh-straight bowl in which Iowa didn’t score a first-quarter touchdown.

8 — Iowa is 8-8 in bowls under Kirk Ferentz.

17 — After scoring a total of 20 first-half points over their previous six bowls, the Hawkeyes put up 17 in the second-quarter alone.

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21 — Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had his 21st-career 100-yard rushing game, with 20 carries for 103 yards and a touchdown.

35 — Iowa had 35 quarterback sacks this season, led by A.J. Epenesa’s 10.5. It was the Hawkeyes’ most sacks since they got 40 in 2002.

80 — Tuesday’s high temperature here was 80 degrees.

100 — Easley’s second touchdown catch was the 100th reception in his two-year Iowa career, and he had the second 100-yard game (a career-high 104) of his career.

199 — Iowa’s 199 yards is an Outback Bowl all-time low. The previous mark was 226, which is what the Hawkeyes gained against Florida two years ago in a 30-3 loss.

40,518 — Tuesday’s attendance was the smallest in the history of the Outback Bowl, which dates to 1986 here. The previous low-crowd Iowa had played before in its previous five trips was 51,119 two years ago.

Up next

Iowa plays Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31 at Kinnick Stadium. Both will bring three-game winning streaks into the game. The RedHawks were 6-6 this season. They were bowl-eligible, but weren’t invited to one.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.