Mississippi State vs Iowa
When: 12:00 PM ET, Tuesday, January 1, 2019
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Preview for Digital Sports Desk by Gracenote
OUTBACK BOWL STORYLINES
TAMPA – Two of the premier defenses in FBS will take center stage on New Year’s Day in Tampa, Fla. when No. 18 Mississippi State and Iowa square off in the Outback Bowl. The Bulldogs are the only team in the country to rank inside the top 10 in scoring (FBS-best 12 points allowed per game), rushing (ninth; 104.3 yards), passing (sixth; 164.2) and total (third; 268.4) defense. Iowa, which finished the regular season in a tie for first in FBS with 18 interceptions, rivaled Mississippi State in three of the four defensive categories: 11th in scoring (17.4), seventh in rushing (102.8) and seventh in total yards (289.6).
Iowa served as the home of the two of the best tight ends in the country in 2018, but only one will take the field at Raymond James Stadium. First-team All-Big Ten selection Noah Fant elected to skip the bowl game to begin preparing for the 2019 NFL Draft following a three-year career in which he caught 19 touchdown passes – the most ever by a tight end in school history. Mackey Award winner T.J. Hockenson has yet to announce whether he will turn pro but will play in this contest after posting seven total TDs and team-high totals of 46 receptions and 717 receiving yards in 2018.
Senior defensive end Montez Sweat, who is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, became the first Mississippi State player to be named a first-team All-American since Benardrick McKinney in 2014.. The 6-6, 245-pound Georgia native ranks sixth in school history with 21.5 career sacks despite playing only two seasons with the Bulldogs. Sweat consistently made his presence felt in 2018, totaling 11 sacks (tied for sixth in FBS), 13.5 tackles for loss (seventh in the SEC) and 40 total pressures per Pro Football Focus.
TV: Noon ET, ESPN2. LINE: Mississippi State -7
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI STATE (8-4, 4-4 SEC): Senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, who has been responsible for 99 total touchdowns in his career, owns the SEC record for most 100-yard rushing games by a quarterback (20) and is the only signal-caller in conference history to run for more than 3,000 yards. All-SEC junior defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons anchors the front of the Bulldogs’ dominant defense, as his team-high 14.5 tackles for loss rank fourth in the conference, while his 45 tackles during league play led all SEC defensive lineman. Senior safety Johnathan Abram heads up the back end of the Bulldogs’ defense, garnering All-SEC honors after recording a team-high 93 tackles – 7.5 for loss – 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
ABOUT IOWA (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten): Junior Nate Stanley is responsible for two of the top six passing touchdown totals in school history (26 in 2017 was second in program annals, while his 23 in 2018 ranks sixth), and his 49 TD passes in 2017-18 is tied with Chuck Long for the most over a two-year span. Defensive ends A.J. Epenesa and Anthony Nelson are in a three-way tie for first in the Big Ten with 9.5 sacks – the highest single-season totals by any Hawkeye since Adrian Clayborn had 11.5 in 2009. Sophomore Ihmir Smith-Marsette averages a Big Ten-best 29.3 yards on kickoff returns (second in FBS), while Kyle Groeneweg also leads the conference with a 10.2-yard average on punt returns (19th).