The Outback Bowl is a matchup between two lesser talked about teams in their respective conferences. Both Mississippi State and Iowa had good seasons, but also disappointed to an extent. The Bulldogs were -7.5 points favorites with an over/under of 44 (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) a week before the Game in Tampa.
This Game is all about defense and that’s kind of how every Game has gone for Mississippi State (8-4 ATS) this season. The Bulldogs lost their first two SEC Games (at UK, Florida), but figured things out shortly after, highlighted by double-digit wins over Auburn and Texas A&M. Those results are the main reason they’ll get more money in this Game and because they held Alabama to just 24 points.
Iowa (7-5 ATS) is also led by its defense, though it isn’t as good even though it had the same 8-4 record mostly because of Schedule. Even in the subpar Big Ten West division, the Hawkeyes lost Four Conference Games with a loss at Purdue and home against Northwestern standing out. In fact, the early 13-3 win against Iowa State may have been their most impressive one.
Iowa’s goal will be to top 20 points after Miss. State was best in the nation, allowing 12.0 points per Game. Maybe more impressive is that the Bulldogs were good in all areas, limiting rushing attacks to 3.0 yards per carry and quarterbacks to 5.4 yards per pass.
The Hawkeyes don’t have a bad offense averaging 31.5 points per Game, but they didn’t do much against the best defenses faced, scoring 10 against Northwestern, 17 versus Wisconsin and 13 on Iowa State. Quarterback Nate Stanley may have an NFL future, but he has a big task on his hands after averaging only 7.23 yards per attempt with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Tight end Noah Fant is also skipping this Game so that doesn’t help, though fellow tight end T.J. Hockenson (717 yards) actually had better numbers, while receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette was the playmaker of the offense. Iowa will still try and run the ball as much as possible between Mekhi Sargent (748 yards, 9 TDs) and Toren Young (630 yards, 5 TDs). They closed the season on a high, but also combined for just 41 rushing yards in the loss to Northwestern three Games ago. If Iowa wants to have a chance, it needs to move the ball on the ground.
That said, Mississippi State could also have some trouble moving the ball against Iowa’s defense, which allowed 17.4 points per Game. The Hawkeyes had a few slipups but also have a dominant defensive front that allowed 3.1 yards per carry and a secondary that allowed 6.1 yards per pass.
The main difference between offenses is that MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is more of a runner than passer. His passing numbers didn’t improve in his third year as a starter as he had just 6.49 yards per attempt. The reason the Bulldogs beat up on bad teams was because of Fitzgerald’s 1,018 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns combined with running backs Kylin Hill (691 yards) and Aeris Williams (502 yards). against good defenses, this offense did little and scored seven points or less Four different times. If Iowa’s defense comes to play, there’s no reason it can’t stay competitive.
This is Joe Moorhead’s first bowl as a head coach for MSU, but Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz has lost five of his last six bowls (beat Boston College last year). Iowa was in the OUtback Bowl two years ago and lost 30-3 to Florida as a 1-point underdog. The Bulldogs have covered in their last five non-Conference Games and are 9-4 ATS vs. a team with a winning record. The Hawkeyes have covered in their last Four non-Conference Games, but are just 1-7 ATS in their last eight on grass.
Our Pick – Miss St -7