To secure a victory in the 2019 Outback Bowl, the Iowa Hawkeyes would need a big play for one of its key seniors. That is exactly what they got from defensive back Jake Gervase. Gervase intercepted what would have been a go-ahead touchdown late and broke up a fourth-down pass in the final minute to secure the victory for Iowa.
The win gave head coach Kirk Ferentz his eighth bowl victory at Iowa and improved his bowl record to 8-8. The Iowa win was an important win for the Big Ten with the SEC outscoring them 104-29 in head to head match-ups coming into the day.
Mississippi State in Control Early
The Bulldog defense came out ready to play early in the game. Through three possessions the Hawkeyes only had 39 yards and were forced to punt twice. On the first possession of the game, Iowa went backward with -12 yards that ended with Nate Stanley getting sacked by Jeffery Simmons. Simmons was looking to end his college career on a winning note and individually had a sold outing. Simmons collected one sack, four tackles, and two and a half tackles for loss.
On offense, the Bulldogs were able to move the ball were limited to just two field goals by Jace Christman. Christman totaled three on the day from distances of 44, 42, and 20. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald had an up and down game in his final outing for the Bulldogs. Fitzgerald went 14 for 32 with 152 yards and one touchdown passing and added 103 yards rushing and a score. Although, it was the three turnovers that really cost the team.
Iowa Offense Awakens in the Second
Iowa was trailing near the midpoint of the second quarter and was trying to determine how to move the ball against the Bulldog defense. On first down from their own 25, Stanley went play-action that resulted in a 75 yard touchdown catch for Nick Easley. Stanley and Easley would connect once more later in the game, and both had solid games on Tuesday. Stanley went 21 for 31 with 214 yards and three touchdowns. Easley had eight catches for 104 yards and the two touchdowns.
The second Hawkeye touchdown of the quarter came after the first Fitzgerald turnover of the game when A.J. Epenesa sacked the quarterback and forced a fumble. This set Iowa up in the redzone, and two plays later Stanley connected with Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a 15-yard score. This gave Iowa all the momentum going into half-time.
Mississippi State Creates Opportunities in the Third
With Iowa receiving the ball to begin the second half, Mississippi State had to make a play to slow down the momentum. As Iowa had moved the ball close to mid-field, Willie Gay intercepted a pass by Stanley and returned it 46 yards to set the Bulldogs up inside the ten. Two plays later, Fitzgerald hit running back Kylin HIll for a one-yard touchdown pass. Followed was a failed two-point conversion, and the Bulldogs trailed 17-12. On the following kick-off, Smith-Marsette fumbled and on the very next play, Fitzgerald took a designed quarterback run 33 yards to take the lead 19-17. Momentum belonged to Mississippi State.
Iowa Takes Control
That touchdown by Fitzgerald was the last time the Bulldogs would reach the endzone. Two possessions later defensive lineman Chauncey Golston intercepted Fitzgerald on an attempted screen pass to give Iowa possession at the Mississippi State 32. A few plays later the second connection between Stanley and Easley occurred to give Iowa a 24-19 lead. This was a lead that they never gave back. The Bulldogs, though, did add in a field goal two possessions later to get within two points. Two possessions later is when Gervase made his impact with the interception, and then of course the break-up to close the deal on fourth down. The interception did lead to a field goal by Miguel Recinos that extended the lead to 27-22. All three Fitzgerald turnovers resulted in 17 points for the Hawkeyes.
Next season will be a rebuilding season for Mississippi State. Not only do they lose Fitzgerald, but also lose defensive stars Simmons, Montez Sweat, and Jonathan Abram. Filling these positions will not be easy, but will have to be done if the Bulldogs want to see the postseason next season.
For Iowa, this victory should give them momentum going into the spring and next season. The Hawkeyes will lose plenty to leaders on the defensive side of the ball but do return Stanley who will be going into his senior season. This is a team that has the talent and ability to compete for the Big Ten West next season.