Mississippi St Mississippi Football

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald reacts after scoring a first-half touchdown during the Bulldogs' 35-3 win at Mississippi on Nov. 22 in Oxford, Mississippi.

Four things the football teams from Iowa and Mississippi State can do to put themselves in a position for success Tuesday in the 11 a.m. Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium:

Mississippi State (8-4)

1. Establish the run

Joe Moorhead is a smart man. After spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons coordinating a Penn State offense that filled the air with footballs, the first-year Mississippi State coach has built the Bulldogs attack around the most productive running quarterback in SEC history and a solid offensive line.

Mississippi State's offense runs through quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior who earlier this season broke Heisman winner Tim Tebow's SEC record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He's piled up 3,504 yards on the ground and the third-year starter has carried a team-high 201 times for 1,018 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

Fitzgerald is third in the SEC in rushing at 92.6 yards per game, bringing a physical approach to the position that will see him carry the ball frequently on third-and-short to medium situations.

He works behind a line that averages 323 pounds across the board and is anchored by senior center Elgton Jenkins, who is rated by Mel Kiper Jr. as the best center prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft.

When Fitzgerald is carrying the ball, Kylin Hill often is. The sophomore averages 69.1 yards per game and has topped 100 yards three times this season, half of the number Fitzgerald has but one more than Iowa has collectively in 2018 as a team.

2. Big players, big plays

Mississippi State needs its best defensive players to be at their best.

Defensive end Montez Sweat, who began his career at Michigan State, and nose guard Jeffery Simmons both earned all-American honors on a defense which ranks as one of the country's best.

The 6-6, 245-pound Sweat has collected 29.5 tackles for a loss and 22 sacks over the past two seasons for the Bulldogs. The senior's 11.5 sacks this season ranks second in the SEC.

Simmons, a 6-4, 300-pound junior, has 14.5 tackles for a loss this season and is second among SEC defensive lineman with 59 tackles on the year.

They set a tone on a defense which has recorded 96 tackles for a loss through 12 games, a total that led the SEC in the regular season. Mississippi State has sacked opposing quarterbacks 36 times heading into the match-up with an Iowa offensive line which has given up 13 sacks through 12 games.

3. Possess the football

The only blemishes on Mississippi State's record over the final seven games came in losses to fifth-ranked LSU 19-3 and top-rated Alabama 24-0.

The Tigers helped themselves to four interceptions, something Fitzgerald has avoided during the second half of the year. He hasn't thrown an interception in the last five games dating to the final minutes of the LSU loss.

Since that point, the Bulldogs have not thrown an interception or allowed a fumble return. Playing error-free football will be a necessity against opportunistic Iowa.

4. Live up to the hype

Mississippi State is 8-4 this season because of the play of its defense, labeled the best in the nation by more than a handful of analysts.

The Bulldogs are the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to rank in the top 10 in the country in rushing defense, passing defense, total defense and scoring defense.

Mississippi State is only giving up 12 points per game and has allowed just 12 touchdowns this season. The Bulldogs have accomplished that with a pass efficiency defense that leads the nation at 97.26 and a red zone defense that is also the nation's best, allowing opponents to score just one out of every four times they move the ball inside the 20.

The Bulldogs limited seven FBS opponents to their lowest offensive point total of the season.

Iowa (8-4)

1. Establish the run

It's at the root of all things Iowa after all.

Finding a way to get the ground game going is always where offense begins for the Hawkeyes and that is especially true against a defense like the one Iowa will see at Raymond James Stadium.

Only one team has topped 150 yards on the ground against Mississippi State this season and if Iowa can get that done, they'll likely be a position to earn back-to-back bowl victories for the first time since the 2009 and 2010 seasons and create some ways to balance things out by getting passes into the hands of tight end T.J. Hockenson and receivers Nick Easley, Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

A front five which has allowed just 13 sacks this season will need to produce that type of consistency again against an aggressive Bulldogs defense.

Iowa enters the Outback Bowl having rushed for 203 and 266 yards in its last two starts, mirroring the emergence of Mekhi Sargent as the Hawkeyes' leading rusher.

Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin will continue to be a factor in Iowa's ground game, a needed complement to Sargent as he works to build off of the only two 100-yard rushing performances recorded this season by a Hawkeye.

2. Deliver on defense

Iowa lives in the same neighborhood as Mississippi State on the defensive side of the ball.

The Hawkeyes are capable of making life tough on the Bulldogs, ranking 11th in the country in scoring defense at 17.4 points per game, seventh in run defense at 102.8 yards per game, 23rd in pass defense at 186.8 yards per game and seventh in total defense at 289.6 yards.

Iowa will need a consistent game on the back end of its defense, where Big Ten defensive back of the year Amani Hooker and senior safety Jake Gervase provide veteran leadership.

3. Be truly special

Special teams is an area where Iowa has a chance to create an edge against Mississippi State.

The Hawkeyes have senior experience in kicker Miguel Recinos, seeing his first competition since knocking through a 41-yard field goal as time expired in a 31-28 win over Nebraska.

They have the nation's second-ranked kickoff return specialist in Big Ten return specialist of the year Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who has averaged 29.3 yards on kick returns this season.

Senior punt returner Kyle Groeneweg is 19th in the country and first in the Big Ten with his average of 10.2 yards per return.

Mississippi State will be without its leading punt returner in the bowl game. Starter Keith Mixon, who averaged 6.5 yards per return this season, did not make the bowl trip because of what Moorhead labeled "personal reasons.''

4. Change momentum

Remember the interception Gervase had that led to a field goal and the pick that Josh Jackson made after a go-ahead touchdown that secured Iowa's 27-20 win over Boston College in last year's Pinstripe Bowl?

This is the type of game where momentum-changing big plays can make a difference.

Iowa enters the Outback Bowl leading the nation for the second straight year in interceptions. The Hawkeyes have collected 18 on the season, including 16 during the final eight games of the regular season, and unlike a year ago when Josh Jackson led the country in picks this year's work has been a group endeavor.

Hooker and Geno Stone lead the team with four interceptions apiece while Gervase, the team leader with 83 tackles, and Michael Ojemudia have each picked off three passes this season.

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