DI Film Room: Reviewing the 2019 Outback Bowl

Iowa couldn't run the ball in the Outback Bowl, but its air attack and defense stepped up when it needed to.

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DI Film Room: Reviewing the 2019 Outback Bowl

Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley dives for a toucdown during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley dives for a toucdown during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley dives for a toucdown during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley dives for a toucdown during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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Iowa’s 27-22 2019 Outback Bowl win over Mississippi State marked its second postseason victory in two years after suffering five bowl defeats in a row.

Although they won, the Hawkeyes posted minus-15 total rushing yards on 20 carries.

Despite the defective ground attack, Iowa found its stride through the air against a defense that boasted three first-round picks in the NFL Draft. Nick Easley picked up Outback Bowl MVP honors after hauling in 8 passes for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Iowa only gained 199 yards in the game, compared with Mississippi State’s 342. Forcing 3 turnovers, though, helped the Hawkeye cause.

The Daily Iowan takes a look at what helped Iowa topple a powerful Bulldog team in its final game of the 2018 season.

Down two field goals in the second quarter, Iowa faced third and 10 at the Mississippi State 33.

The Hawkeyes lined up with four wide, with Brandon Smith and Nick Easley to the field. Easley played in the slot with first-round safety Johnathan Abram lined up him.

The Bulldogs rushed four just as they showed, but instead of the four on the line, Abram tried to get home from the slot.

Linebacker Willie Gay Jr., who showed blitz in close, couldn’t replace Abram in time. Stanley read the nickel blitz, allowing Easley to make an easy reception that set up a 44-yard field goal by Miguel Recinos for Iowa’s first points of the game.

This play is part of what makes A.J. Epenesa such a tantalizing draft prospect.

On third and 11 on the Bulldog 41, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald lined up in the shotgun with an empty backfield in a clear passing situation.

Epenesa then found his place at right end. He tried to get around 345-pound tackle Tyre Phillips, forcing Fitzgerald to step up in the pocket. Then, Epenesa changed direction and found a way to get to Fitzgerald.

The way Epenesa got around Phillips as if it was nothing will likely force teams to start double-teaming him more often, which could open other holes in the line.

Simple pitch and catch here.

Iowa once again lined up with Smith and Easley to the field, with Easley playing in the slot, and again, Abram lined up over Easley in the nickel.

Stanley faked play-action to the back, and Abram got caught biting with his eyes in the backfield. No safety help over the top meant a 75-yard score and a 10-6 lead.

For those who don’t know, the Hawkeyes had a pretty good defensive line last year, and they wreaked havoc to force a Fitzgerald pick late in the third quarter.

Epenesa zipped his way into the backfield untouched, while Anthony Nelson used a small swim move and was basically welcomed to put pressure on Fitzgerald by offensive lineman Stewart Reese.

Then, with Fitzgerald backpedaling, Nelson used his length to tip the ball, and Chauncey Golston tracked the ball to make the interception.

Iowa stuck itself in one of the most difficult play-calling positions here. With first and goal from the 8, there are only so many plays that can be called in that limited space.

Luckily for the Hawkeyes, they found something to work.

Iowa lined up with trips to the right with Smith on the outside, Easley inside, and Kyle Groeneweg in between.

Easley basically ran a delayed screen in the form of a quick out. From the snap of the ball, Groeneweg and Smith were set on blocking their defenders.

Erroll Thompson, the linebacker on Easley, was late to react, however, allowing the receiver to create plenty of separation before making the catch. From there, Groeneweg and Smith finished their blocks to propel Easley into the end zone.

Iowa took a 24-19 lead with the score, and it never trailed again.