By JAMES ALLAN
TAMPA, Fla. — The University of Iowa football team was opportunistic to tally win No. 9 in Outback Bowl paradise.
The Hawkeyes scored 17 points off three Mississippi State turnovers, sending Iowa to a 27-22 victory over the 18th-ranked Bulldogs on Tuesday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium. It is Iowa’s first victory over a ranked opponent this season.
Iowa finishes the 2018 season with a bowl victory for a second straight season and it gives the Hawkeyes their first nine-win season since 2015. It is Iowa’s 15th season with nine or more wins in school history.
The Hawkeyes led 17-6 at the half before Mississippi State scored twice in a span of 18 seconds in the third quarter to take a 19-17 lead. Both touchdowns came following Iowa turnovers.
Iowa’s defense set up a go-ahead touchdown when junior Anthony Nelson tipped a Nick Fitzgerald screen pass attempt at the line of scrimmage and junior Chauncey Golston went up and got the interception, giving Iowa possession at the Mississippi State 20.
The Hawkeyes needed six plays before junior Nate Stanley connected with Outback Bowl Most Valuable Player Nick Easley for an 8-yard touchdown pass — his second of the game — giving the Hawkeyes a 24-19 lead.
Iowa’s defense stepped up from there.
On Mississippi State’s first possession of the fourth quarter, Fitzgerald hit Stephen Guidry on a 51-yard reception, but he was tripped up at the 1 on a tackle by sophomore Matt Hankins. After three unsuccessful Fitzgerald rushes, Mississippi State was forced to settle on Jace Christmann’s 20-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 24-22.
The Bulldogs threatened again on their next possession when Fitzgerald hit Osirus Mitchell for 34 yards on the opening play to the Iowa 31 and Mississippi State moved into the red zone on two Kylin Hill rushes. On first-and-10, Fitzgerald found Guidry in the end zone, but the ball popped off his chest into the arms of senior Jake Gervase for the interception.
The Hawkeyes went 50 yards over six plays with 42 coming on back-to-back completions to T.J. Hockenson. Iowa extended its lead to 27-22 on a 40-yard field goal from senior Miguel Recinos with 5:51 to play.
Iowa’s defense made two more stops in the closing minutes, including a game-clinching stop on a drive that started on the MSU 31 with 2:22 to play. The Bulldogs moved to the Iowa 32 over eight plays before Fitzgerald’s fourth down attempt fell incomplete to Farrod Green.
The Hawkeyes won despite being out-gained, 342-199. Mississippi State’s top-ranked defense shut down Iowa’s rushing attack, holding the Hawkeyes to -15 yards. Through the air, Stanley was 21-of-31 for 214 yards with three touchdowns.
Easley closed out his career with eight catches for a career-high 104 yards with two touchdowns. His second quarter 75-yard touchdown reception was an Iowa bowl record.
Defensively, Hankins led Iowa with nine tackles, including seven solo stops. Gervase had six tackles, one interception and three break-ups. Golston finished with two tackles, a fumble recovery, and an interception — the first of his career.
QUOTING HEAD COACH KIRK FERENTZ
“We came into this game, knowing Mississippi State was a tough, talented, and veteran team. They have been that way since the start of the season. We knew this would be a tough, hard fought game and it would take our best effort. That’s what it boiled down to.
“Our guys did a great job preparing, starting back in early December. It’s always tricky to get ready for a bowl game, you’re always trying to search for the right formula, but the bottom line is, players have to be attentive and work hard, and our guys did that. As much as anything they played together and were relentless and resilient. They had to be against this opponent.
“Bottom line is we played tough football, clean football, smart football, and we played team, opportunistic football. For us to win, that’s what it requires. I am pleased for our seniors as much as anything, and for our team. For our seniors to go out with another good season, nine wins, four trophies this year, and should be a top-20 football team; that’s something they can be proud of.
“My sixth trip personally (to Outback Bowl). It’s always a different challenge, the weather might be different, hotels flipping, but the consistent thing is the way we’re treated, it’s first class. The Outback folks do a wonderful job throwing a bowl game and making it a great experience for the players.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Mississippi State grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first quarter with a 10-play, 35-yard scoring drive. Fitzgerald ran for 16 yards on the second play of the drive before the Bulldogs methodically moved to the Iowa 27. After the Hawkeyes held on third-and-3, Christmann connected on a 44-yard field goal with 6:37 left in the first quarter.
- The Bulldogs capitalized on a 12-yard Colten Rastetter rugby-style punt to stretch its lead to 6-0. Mississippi State took over at the Iowa 47 before covering 23 yards over nine plays. Christmann connected from 42-yards out with 45 seconds left in the second quarter.
- After being held to -8 yards in the first quarter, Iowa found its footing offensively, in part thanks to two personal foul penalties by Mississippi State. An unsportsmanlike penalty by Kobe Jones gave Iowa its first first down and a targeting penalty on Maurice Smitherman gave Iowa a first-and-10 at the MSU 33. Recinos cut the deficit to 6-3 with a 44-yard field goal with 10:02 left in the second quarter.
- Iowa grabbed its first lead on its next offensive series. On first-and-10 from the 25, Stanley hit Easley in stride for a 75-yard touchdown pass, giving the Hawkeyes a 10-6 lead. The grab was the longest pass of the season/career for Stanley, the longest catch of the season/career for Easley, and both were Iowa bowl records.
- The touchdown was the first allowed by Mississippi State’s defense in 11 quarters.
- Iowa’s defense set up the Hawkeyes’ second touchdown. Sophomore A.J. Epenesa stripped Fitzgerald at the 12-yard line and Golston recovered at the 13. On the second play of the drive, Stanley hit Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a 15-yard touchdown, beating Chris Rayford in coverage to give the Hawkeyes a 17-6 lead.
- It was the first time an opposing team had two touchdowns against the Bulldogs’ top-ranked defense in a game this season.
- Mississippi State scored two touchdowns in the span of 18 seconds in the third quarter to take a 19-17 lead. The Bulldogs’ Willie Gay, Jr., intercepted Stanley at the MSU 46 and returned it 46 yard to the Iowa 6. Fitzgerald’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Kylin Hill made the score 17-12 (the Bulldogs’ 2-point conversation failed).
- Mississippi State’s Stephen Agegoke forced a Smith-Marsette fumble on the ensuing kickoff and the Bulldogs’ Mark McLaurin recovered at the Iowa 33. Fitzgerald scored on the next play, breaking two tackles on a 33-yard touchdown run, giving Mississippi State a 19-17 lead.
- Iowa improved to 8-8 in bowl games since 2001. Only Ohio State (9) and Wisconsin (9) have more bowl wins among Big Ten teams since 2001. The Hawkeyes are 16-15-1 in the program’s 32 bowl appearances.
- Junior Nate Stanley to senior Nick Easley for 75-yard touchdown (1 play, 75 yards, 11 seconds).
- Easley’s 75-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter is an Iowa bowl game record (63 yards, Drew Tate to Any Brodell in 2006 Alamo Bowl)
- Stanley’s 75-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter is an Iowa bowl game record for longest completion (66 yards, Matt Rodgers to Danan Hughes in 1991 Rose Bowl).
- The play was a career-long for Stanley, a career-long for Easley, and Iowa’s longest play of the season)
- Easley had two touchdown receptions (75, 8). It is his first career multi-touchdown game. The eight-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter was his 100th career reception. He is the 23rd player in program history to have 100 career receptions.
- Easley had eighth receptions for a career-high 104 yards. It is his second career 100-yard receiving game.
- Junior Chauncey Golston recovered his third fumble of the season in the second quarter, all three fumble recoveries have been forced by DE A.J. Epenesa (Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Mississippi State). The turnover set up Iowa’s second touchdown.
- Golston intercepted a pass in the third quarter. It is the first interception of his career, and was 19th for Iowa this season. The interception resulted in a touchdown.
- Senior Jake Gervase intercepted a pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter. It was his fourth interception of the season and Iowa’s 20th of the year. The interception resulted in a field goal.
- Stanley threw three touchdowns today, raising his season total to 26, tied for the second highest single-season total in school history (Stanley in 2017, Brad Banks in 2002). He has 52 career touchdown passes, fourth all-time in school history (Chuck Long 74; Drew Tate 61; Ricky Stanzi 56). Stanley’s 52 touchdown passes over the last two seasons are the most ever in school history over a two-year span. Long tossed 49 touchdown passes from 1984 (22) to 1985 (27).
- Stanley completed his first eight pass attempts. His first incomplete pass was at the 1:09 mark of the second quarter. Stanley had 196 yards of total offense, raising his career total to 5,240 and moving passed Jake Rudock (5,213) for ninth all-time in program history.
- Senior Miguel Recinos scored nine points today (three PATs, two FGs), raising his career total to 180, 14th all-time. He kicked two field goals (44, 40). It is the first time this season he had two field goals of 40 or more yards.
- Sophomore A.J. Epenesa had one sack, raising his season total 10.5, the highest single-season total by a Hawkeye since Adrian Clayborn had 11.5 sacks in 2009). Epenesa finished the season with 16.5 tackles for loss, the most by a Hawkeye since James Morris had 18 in 2013).
- Seniors Parker Hesse, Matt Nelson, and Keegan Render played their 52nd and final game as Hawkeyes today. The 52 career games played tie for fifth all-time at Iowa.
- Redshirt sophomore T.J. Hockensen had three receptions for 43 yards, all in the fourth quarter. He finished the season with a team-high 49 receptions for a team-high 760 yards. The last Hawkeye tight end to lead the team in receptions in a single season was Scott Chandler in 2005 (47). The last Hawkeye tight end to lead the team in single-season receiving yards was Alan Cross in 1992 (600).
- Hockenson’s 49 receptions tie Marv Cook for the fourth-most in single season history by a tight end. The top four includes Marv Cook (63 in 1988), Alan Cross (55 in 1992), and Cook in 1987.
- Hockenson’s 760 receiving yards are the third most in single-season history by a tight end. Marv Cook had 803 yards receiving in 1987, and 767 in 1988.
- Iowa scored 27 points today. The second most Mississippi State allowed this season (Kentucky, 28). Iowa is the fourth team this season to score at least 14 points against Mississippi State (Kentucky, LSU, Alabama, and Iowa). Mississippi State entered the game with the nation’s top scoring defense (12.0 ppg).
- Iowa is the only team to score two passing touchdowns in a single game against Mississippi State this season.
- Iowa scored two touchdowns in the second quarter in a span of 1 minute, 37 seconds. The first touchdown (Easley) marked the first time in 11 quarters Mississippi State had allowed a touchdown.
- Iowa scored a season-high 17 points off turnovers today.
- Iowa had one sack today, raising its season total to 35, its highest single-season total since recording 40 sacks in 2012.
- Iowa led 17-6 at half. It was Iowa’s first halftime lead in a bowl game since thee 2010 Insight Bowl (17-10 vs. Missouri).
- Iowa did not commit a penalty.
- Iowa rushed for minus-15 yards, matching the fewest rushing yards by a winning bowl team since 2000 (San Jose State in 2012 Military Bowl).
- Iowa had 199 yards of total offense, one fewer than it had in its 27-20 win in the 2017 Pinstripe Bowl.
- Today’s win was Iowa’s first this season against a ranked opponent. Iowa’s last win over a ranked opponent was Nov. 4, 2017 against No. 3 Ohio State (55-24). Iowa’s last win over a ranked opponent on a neutral field was Dec. 28, 2010 against No. 12 Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.
ON THE HORIZON
The Hawkeyes host Miami (Ohio) in the 2019 season opener on Aug. 31 in Kinnick Stadium.