It’s beginning to look a lot like bowl season around here.
Iowa State kicks off the FBS postseason for Iowans on Friday, playing Washington State in the Alamo Bowl. Then four days later, Iowa will line up against Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.
This is the sixth time Iowa is playing in this Tampa, Fla., bowl game, but the first time the Hawkeyes have met Mississippi State.
Here are 5 Things about the Bulldogs heading into the Jan. 1 game at Raymond James Stadium:
1. Meet the Bulldogs
Mississippi State likes to run the ball and is pretty good at stopping the run.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season at 8-4, including a 4-4 record in the Southeastern Conference. They were 6-1 in games in Starkville, Miss., and 2-3 on the road.
They opened the season with wins over Stephen F. Austin, Kansas State and Louisiana and closed with wins against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Did we mention they like to run the ball?
Mississippi State averaged 226.4 yards per game, 5.8 yards per carry.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, a capable passer who completed 52.6 percent of his passes for 1,615 yards and 15 touchdowns against seven interceptions, was the team’s leading rusher. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior totaled 1,018 yards on 201 attempts, averaging 92.5 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Can you say dual threat?
Kylin Hill, a 5-8, 215-pound sophomore, is the top running back, gaining 691 yards on 105 carries. He missed a couple of games with an injury, but has “fresh legs” for the Outback Bowl.
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“He was as frustrated as we were just past the midpoint of the season balancing some things and missing a few games,” head coach Joe Moorhead said in a story in the Clarion Ledger. “To get him healthy for the bowl game, I’m excited for him and for us.”
Aaeris Williams is more than capable of picking up the slack when Hill is on the sideline. The 6-1, 215-pound senior averaged 6.4 yards per carry, totaling 502 yards.
Osirus Mitchell is the top receiver with 24 catches for 385 yards and four TDs.
The Bulldog rush defense is impressive, too, They allowed just 104.2 rushing yards per game, 3.0 yards per attempt. The passing defense isn’t too shabby, either, allowing 164.2 yards per game, or 5.4 yards per pass.
Mississippi State gave up just 12 points per game.
2. The coach
This is how Joe Moorhead’s bio begins on the school’s athletic website:
“When Mississippi State Director of Athletics John Cohen was charged with finding the Bulldogs’ 33rd head football coach, he was looking for a man with a pedigree as a winner, an innovator with a blue-collar work ethic and at the forefront, a ‘ball coach.’ From the beginning of the search, Joe Moorhead was the unequivocal leader. ...”
The 44-year-old Moorhead was named head coach a little more than a year ago, leaving his post as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Penn State.
This is his second head coaching position. He directed Fordham, his alma mater, from 2012 to ’15, compiling a 38-13 record and taking the Rams to the FCS playoffs three times.
He also has stops at Pitt, Georgetown, Akron and Connecticut. He has worked on the offensive side of the ball most of his career.
“Moorhead is an awesome teacher and innovative mind,” former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer said after Moorhead was hired.
3. NFL bound
Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons announced recently he will enter the 2019 NFL Draft, but will play in the Outback Bowl.
Simmons is a 6-4, 300-pound junior who was a 5-star recruit out of Noxubee County High School in Mississippi. He played as a true freshman, earned first-team all-SEC honors as a sophomore and preseason All-American honors before the 2018 campaign. He finished the year ranked fourth on the team with 59 tackles, including a team-high 14.5 for loss. He had one sack. He was a third-team All-American from the Associated Press and won the Conerly Trophy as the best collegiate football player in Mississippi.
In his three seasons, he totaled 159 tackles, 30.5 for loss.
“For the past three years at Mississippi State, I have poured my heart into everything I did on the field, in the classroom and in the community,” Simmons said in a statement announcing his NFL decision. “This place taught me to never give up, and it instilled a desire and work ethic to reach my ultimate goal.”
He has Moorhead’s full support.
“From 20 years of coaching, when a young man has an opportunity to change his life by becoming a potential first-round pick and specifically a high first-round pick, my advice is to take advantage of that because you can always come back and get your degree,” Moorhead said.
4. History lesson
Mississippi State has been playing football since 1895 when it was called Mississippi A&M. They were the Aggies then.
This isn’t a program with a rich football tradition, posting an overall record of 563-577-39 and a bowl record of 13-8. The Outback will be the team’s 22nd bowl appearance.
There is one conference title (1941) and one division title (West, 1998) on the ledger. The Bulldogs have had two consensus All-Americans.
The coaching tree isn’t filled with legendary figures, either.
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Jackie Sherrill is arguably the most famous (infamous?) coach in program history. He guided the team to a 75-75-2 record in 13 seasons and is the winningest coach in program history. He took the Bulldogs to six bowl games, winning two.
But after he retired in 2003, the NCAA placed the program on probation for four years.
Dan Mullen coached the Bulldogs from 2009 through the ’17 season before bolting for Florida, just eight months after signing a four-year contract extension. He had a 69-46 coaching record with eight bowl appearances, although he didn’t coach in the TaxSlayer Bowl win over Louisville after taking the Florida job.
Mississippi State has been to a bowl the last nine years, winning six of those games, including three in a row.
5. The series
This is easy. These two teams have never met on the football field.
But the Bulldogs have played others from the Big Ten — with little success.
Mississippi State is 3-9 against Big Ten teams, including 0-3 vs. Indiana. But the last game against the Hoosiers was in 1932.
The Bulldogs’ wins over Big Ten foes came in 2011 (52-10 over Michigan in the Gator Bowl), 1980 (28-21 over Illinois) and 1946 (6-0 over Michigan State).
Moorhead has a history against the Hawkeyes when he was the offensive coordinator at Penn State. His Nittany Lion offense piled 599 yards on the Hawkeyes in a 41-14 win in 2016 and had 579 the following year in a 21-19 win.
Iowa is 4-6 against teams from the SEC and has lost three in a row.
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