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Defense shines brightest as Mississippi State, Iowa battle in Outback Bowl

Mississippi State vs Iowa Betting Odds

The 8-4 Mississippi State Bulldogs are making their ninth bowl appearance when they visit Raymond James Stadium to take on the 8-4 Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2019 Outback Bowl. Iowa is playing in its sixth bowl game in a row, finding victory for the first time over that span last year. This is the first-ever meeting between these two schools and Mississippi State is a 7-point favorite with the total opening at 44 points.

Shark Bites
  • The total has gone UNDER in eight of Mississippi State’s last nine games.
  • Iowa is 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS in its last five games.
  • Mississippi State allowed the fewest points per game in the nation this season (12.0).

Iowa vs Mississippi State Game Center

Bulldogs look to carry end-of-season success into bowl season

Mississippi State had a topsy-turvy season, having some times when it looked unstoppable and others when it looked pedestrian. The Bulldogs started the season with a 3-0 SU and ATS record, but when SEC play began, their offensive vulnerabilities became more apparent. They averaged 50 points per game in the first three weeks while being limited to just 9.75 ppg in the next four weeks (1-3 SU and ATS). However, down the stretch the offense came alive again as they went 4-1 SU and ATS, averaging 32 ppg, with their only loss a 24-0 setback to Alabama on the road.

This game marks a bit of an end of an era for Mississippi State as it’ll be the final game for senior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald under center. The Georgia native has been the Bulldogs signal-caller for the last three seasons, leading them to a 23-15 record, including two bowl victories. Fitzgerald threw for 1,615 yards this season with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while also tucking the ball 201 times for an additional 1,018 yards and 12 TDs.

The defense was where the Bulldogs won their games, though, as they allowed just 12 points per game to lead the nation, giving up 20 or more points to just two teams all season, one of them being Alabama. They racked up 36 sacks, which ranked in a tie for 13th-most in college football, and were led by senior defensive end Montez Sweat, who brought down the opposing QB eight times this season. Not only did Mississippi State get a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but it surrendered the sixth-fewest passing yards per game at 164.2.

Hawkeyes aim to even Outback Bowl record

Iowa had a bit of a season of two halves, seemingly unstoppable through its first seven games while having some difficulties in the latter stages. The Hawkeyes claimed victory in six of their first seven games, covering the spread in each of the wins and sporting an average win margin of 21. However, they were just 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS in their last five contests, closing the season with back-to-back wins.

Offensively, Iowa was near the middle of the pack in the majority of categories, averaging 31.5 points, 227.7 passing yards and 162 rushing yards per game. Junior QB Nate Stanley was the man under center, taking a step forward from last year by completing 58.6 percent of his passes for 2,638 yards, 23 TDs and nine interceptions. Much like their opponents on New Year’s Day, though, the defense was the brightest star. Iowa finished 11th in the nation for fewest points surrendered per game at 17.4 and ranked eighth in the country by giving up just 102.8 rushing yards per game.

That stout defense is led by a pair of ferocious defensive ends in junior Anthony Nelson and sophomore A.J. Epenesa. Each racked up 9.5 sacks, with Epenesa also deflecting three passes and creating three forced fumbles. When going up against teams that were strong offensively, they did show some cracks, as Penn State and Maryland each scored more than 30 points, with both games being played on the road.

Is the UNDER the smart bet to make?

The 2019 Outback Bowl features two elite defenses going toe-to-toe and Bovada has the total opening at 44 points. Mississippi State went UNDER in eight of its last nine games with an average combined score of 35.22, with only two games going over the 44-point total. However, Iowa went OVER in eight of its last 10 games with an average combined score of 53.2, with only two games going UNDER 44 points.

That being said, the Hawkeyes scored 33.2 ppg over that span, but the best defense they faced was Penn State’s (20th-fewest ppg in the nation) and they managed just 24 points in that match. The Bulldogs’ main offensive attack is on the ground, where the Hawkeyes give up the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game, while Iowa attacks through the air, where Mississippi State surrenders the sixth-fewest passing yards per game. I think this is going to be a chess battle and the UNDER is the bet to make.

My take on Mississippi State vs Iowa

I like the UNDER 44 points in this game. Iowa hasn’t played a defensive powerhouse the likes of Mississippi State this year and was held to just 10 points against a Northwestern team that allows the 25th-most passing yards per game in the nation. I think that the Hawkeyes are going to be limited to fewer than 20 points and if the Bulldogs can’t get their game going, they too are going to struggle offensively.