I don’t know if you know this, but Iowa has played in the Outback Bowl five times prior than this season, going 2-3. Though three lines are accessible (Iowa is 2-1 ATS for those), I’m guessing they were 3-2 against the spread. With a weirdly large sample, I figured there are things we can parse from each game to see what we might expect on January 1st.
Note: AP ranking and record are taken from prior to the game; averages are total season; lines, when available are from Wikipedia
Iowa Hawkeyes: 9-3 (28.7 PPG, 41st; 16.2 OPPG, 7th)
Florida Gators: 8-4 (30.0 PPG, 34th; 20.8 OPPG, 28th)
Summary: Iowa yielded an early touchdown but ended up controlling the rest of the first half and scored 20 unanswered points. (Sup Nathan Chandler rushing touchdown) An early blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the second half really shut the door on any chance of a Gator comeback. 70 of Florida’s 325 yards came on the first quarter touchdown.
Comparison: The 2003 team is largely forgotten as the team between the iconic 2002 and gritty 2004 squads but they ended up ranked eighth after this victory. Statistically, Iowa mirrors this team in terms of relative scoring offensively and defensively. The difference, of course, was Iowa’s ability to turn that differential into another win.
Florida had some pretty solid wins in 2003: all of LSU, Arkansas, and Georgia were ranked in 11th or better with no win coming in Gainesville. Their offense was more high-powered than this Mississippi State team but their defense is nowhere near as good as the Bulldogs.
How Iowa replicates: Iowa leverages field position and time of possession against an underwhelming offense and gets a special team touchdown to turn it into a laugher.
Likelihood: 2/10. Mississippi State’s defense is simply too good to allow an Iowa team to score 30 points.
Iowa Hawkeyes: 7-4 (30.0 PPG, 39th; 20.0 OPPG, 22nd)
Florida Gators: 8-3 (28.6 PPG, 49th; 18.8 OPPG, 18th)
Summary: Florida scored 17 first half points through defense and special teams before the squads trade touchdowns within the last 1:10. Iowa tries to roll the boulder up the hill after giving up another touchdown but 24 points proves too difficult to overcome. And oh yeah, the reffing. Iowa was called for 8 penalties for 60 yards, including a final “offsides” penalty on a recovered onside kick. As always, fuck Urban Meyer. 55-24, asshole.
Comparison: Iowa was a little more offensively oriented in 2005 than this year but found themselves on the wrong side of two tight conference games (sound familiar?) and two laughers where Drew Tate was injured/not himself.
Florida wasn’t yet Florida under Meyer but were well on their way. They were a balanced team and exploited a matchup outside with Dallas Baker.
How Iowa replicates: By shooting themselves in the foot at every opportunity. The penalties were maddening but didn’t give up the blocked punt or pick six.
Likelihood: 5/10. Iowa has only been able to match athleticism with their bowl game opponent once (last year) in about eight or nine tries. They did all they could to give themselves a chance in the fourth quarter of this one, which seems unlikely for this offense to do.
Iowa Hawkeyes: 8-4 (30.3 PPG, 33rd; 13.0 OPPG, 5th)
South Carolina Gamecocks: 7-5 (20.8 PPG, 96th; 21.1 OPPG, 31st)
Summary: Shonn Greene. Iowa got up 31-0 in three quarters. This team is probably the best team Kirk has every had at the end of the season. At me.
Comparison: The stats stack up nicely for Iowa but South Carolina was a really bad offense with a defense which couldn’t match. At least this Mississippi State team averages more points than they give up.
How Iowa replicates: By exploiting a matchup so consistently and excessively that they break the Bulldogs’ collective will to live. While T.J. Hockenson won the Mackey in the same vein Greene won the Doak Walker award, I can’t imagine Iowa could replicate it on his effort alone. Iowa would need Noah Fant for this.
Likelihood: 0.5/10. I’m saying there’s a chance it happens because Hockenson’s sneaky athleticism could really catch MSU off guard.
Iowa Hawkeyes: 8-4 (26.3 PPG, 81st; 18.9 OPPG, 9th)
LSU Tigers: 9-3 (35.8 PPG, 23rd; 22.0 OPPG, 21st)
Summary: Iowa contained LSU’s high scoring offense as both teams leaned into their rushing attack, with the Tigers finding much more success in that area. Iowa punted on six of their seven first half drives, the seventh was an interception. Iowa had touchdown drives of 1 and 4 yards. C.J. Beathard played in the fourth quarter after Jake Rudock went 9/22. LSU had the ball 35 minutes as Jeremy Hill racked up 216 yards on the ground.
Comparison: The 2013 LSU Tigers are, by a pretty large margin, the best offense Iowa faced in the Outback Bowl. Iowa’s mediocre offense was bailed out by the defense throughout the 2013 season. LSU’s defense was fine but not nearly as good as MSU’s is this year.
How Iowa replicates: The defense drags a moribund offense throughout the game before it finally breaks: LSU’s final touchdown came on a 92-yard drive with a 37-yard run being the deciding score.
Likelihood: 8/10. Mississippi State doesn’t have the offense of LSU but Joe Moorhead is a pretty smart guy. I like Iowa’s chances with Phil Parker matching wits so this game could be the field goal version of the 2014 varietal.
Iowa Hawkeyes: 8-4 (24.9 PPG, 95th; 18.8 OPPG, 13th)
Florida Gators: 8-4 (23.9 PPG, 107th; 16.8 OPPG, 6th)
Summary: Iowa couldn’t do anything on offense but neither could Florida. It was a 10-3 game throughout much of the third quarter and even Florida’s touchdown seemed a little fluky. But the touchdown at the end of the third quarter was exacerbated by a Florida pick six on Iowa’s ensuing drive. The score is a little misleading but but also indicative of the overall talent differential between the two teams. Iowa could only muster 55 yards passing as Ed Cunningham lambasted Kirk for leaving Beathard behind a horrible offensive line.
Comparison: This is probably the closest comparison of opponents between Florida and MSU as both have bad offenses yet elite defenses. Iowa’s offense is much better than 2016, especially along the offensive line. Is it enough?
How Iowa replicates: It’s a slobberknocker as Montez Sweat lives in Iowa’s backfield and Iowa largely contains MSU’s offense before a mistake by an Iowa cornerback yields a long touchdown. Neither team move the ball but MSU is able to score at least once on defense, be it a pick-six or a sack on an ill-advised play action pass at their own 2 yard line. Late field goals widen MSU’s margin.
Likelihood: 8.5/10. The statistical comparison between the Florida and Mississippi State has me incredibly concerned. I know Iowa’s line has been good for most of the season but I fear that the overwhelming athleticism constricts Iowa to do anything and limits Brian’s creativity on offense.
Iowa Hawkeyes: 8-4 (31.5 PPG, 47th; 17.4 OPPG, 11th)
Mississippi State Bulldogs: 8-4 (29.1 PPG, 66th; 12.0 OPPG, 1st)
The last two games Iowa’s played in Tampa most concern me about what we might see next week. The overall talent level at Iowa has raised since then, but they are without their most explosive player on offense with Noah Fant’s declaration for the NFL. It ultimately seems like a game where MSU is probably going to be in control for most of it but does it end with them further asserting themselves like 2017 Florida or can Iowa find a way to make it closer like 2014 LSU, or even win the dang thing?
If Iowa is able to limit mistakes – something they really haven’t done well in Tampa – then they’ll have a chance. I expect the defense to be up to the challenge of containing the Bulldogs, as they’ve done to various levels of success the previous five games.
The question is: what offense will show up?