We came into the Outback Bowl expecting a defensive battle. The winning team might be the only one to get into the endzone. The over/under was set at a very low 40 points. We were treated to a much better and exciting game than anyone expected. We were treated to multiple momentum shifts between the Iowa Hawkeyes and Mississippi State Bulldogs. We saw turnovers, an Iowa bowl record, and Nick Fitzgerald continued to climb up SEC record books. The game even came down to the final seconds, but Jake Gervase knocked down a Fitzgerald pass to preserve a 27-22 victory and give the Big 10 bragging rights till 2019.
The 1st quarter was a defensive battle as expected. The teams traded punts early before Nick Fitzgerald were able to get the Bulldogs going. He led them on 2 different drives of 9 and 10 plays before the Hawkeyes defense tightened up and forced field goal attempts. Jace Christmann was good from 44 and 42 yards out. The Mississippi State defense was absolutely stifling and didn’t allow a Hawkeyes 1st down for the entire opening frame.
The 2nd quarter found much more success for the Hawkeyes. Their 1st drive of the quarter was helped by multiple personal foul penalties that got them in range for a field goal that cut the lead in half. Near the halfway mark of the quarter we finally got some explosiveness. Nate Stanley found Nick Easley for a 75-yard touchdown. That was the longest pass of Stanley’s career and set an Iowa record for the longest pass in a bowl game. They then forced a timely turnover when Nick Fitzgerald fumbled deep in his own territory. Ihmir Smith-Marsette was the recipient of Stanley’s 2nd touchdown pass 2 plays later to give the Hawkeyes a 17-6 lead going to the half.
The 3rd quarter featured another huge momentum change. Stanley was intercepted by Willie Gay on the opening drive. Gay didn’t find the endzone, but Fitzgerald found Kylin Hill for a touchdown that cut the lead to 5. The momentum didn’t stop there. Iowa fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Bulldogs recovered. On the very next play Nick Fitzgerald did what he does best. He made things happen with his legs on a 33-yard touchdown run to put the SEC team back in front, 19-17.The Hawkeyes wouldn’t let State control the entire 3rd quarter. They capped a long drive with Stanley finding Easley again to take the lead back, 24-19.
Mississippi State answered on their opening drive of the 4th quarter. Fitzgerald’s deep bomb, put them in great scoring position, but then his legs couldn’t cash in. Christmann though did connect on his 3rd field goal of the game to cut the deficit to 2. The Bulldogs got the ball back very quickly and looked like they had the go ahead touchdown. That touchdown slipped through the fingers of Stephen Guidry. After the ball bounced off of his hands in the endzone it fell into the waiting arms of Jake Gervase for the interception. Iowa was able to move down the field, but the Mississippi State defense did their job to keep the team in the game and held the Hawkeyes to 3 points. The Bulldogs had one final chance and drove into Hawkeyes territory in the final minute, but Gervase was there to knock down a Fitzgerald pass on 4th down to secure Iowa’s 9th victory of the season.
Both teams open the season on August 31st next season against opponents they should be big favorites against. Iowa will host Miami of Ohio and Louisiana Lafayette will come into Starkville to play the Bulldogs.