Hawkeye offense set to clash with standout Mississippi State defense

Iowa’s biggest game of the season is finally here, but the offense will have its toughest test yet with a standout Mississippi State defense.


Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa running back Mehki Sargent carries the ball during the Iowa vs. Nebraska game on Friday, November 23, 2018. Iowa defeated the Huskers 31-28.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

TAMPA, Fla. – The season comes down to this. On Tuesday, Iowa takes on No. 18 Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.

“It’s a great Bowl game on every level,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The biggest thing is you know you’re going to play a tough, aggressive football team on game day, and that’s certainly the case again this year.”

Iowa has a chance to reach nine wins this season, but standing in its way is one of the country’s best defenses. The Bulldogs give up an average of 268.4 yards per game, which ranks first in the country. Mississippi State ranks second in yards per play, holding opponents to 4.14 per play.

But in Iowa’s favor, it’s offense made just as many strides as Mississippi State’s defense. The Hawkeyes averaged 31.5 points per game during the regular season, which ranks as the third-most for an offense under Ferentz.

However, Mississippi State boasts a defensive line unlike any Iowa has faced this season, and that’s one area that Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley pointed to as an area of focus heading into the Outback Bowl.

“Their front four that they have are obviously pretty good,” Stanley said. “That poses a lot of problems as far as getting the run game going, but I think our offensive line is up to the challenge.”

Senior defensive lineman Montez Sweat leads the maroon and white pack with 11 sacks on the season and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Fellow lineman Jeffery Simmons leads the team in tackles for a loss with 14.5. Mississippi State has six defensive linemen with at least 6 tackles for a loss this season.

But the run game, an area Mississippi has excelled in defending, has opened up for Iowa at the right time.

In the Hawkeyes’ final two regular season contests, Iowa tailback Mekhi Sargent eclipsed the century mark, going off on opposing defenses. Sargent finished with 121 yards against Illinois, and then he followed up his best performance of the season with another career mark, netting 173 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska in Iowa’s regular season finale.

“Honestly, it felt like I was in junior college again,” Sargent said of his performance against Nebraska.

Sargent’s game is on the rise, and that’s just what the Hawkeyes will need against a stellar SEC defense.

As the season went on, Mississippi State played its best defense of the season. In the month of November, the Bulldogs played four games. In those games, they held opposing teams to an average of 237.8 yards per game and 3.69 yards per play – all significantly lower than their season averages in those categories. Those four opponents included Louisiana Tech, Arkansas, Mississippi, and No. 1 Alabama, and in those games, the Bulldogs gave up 36 points combined.

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