The Good: Bend Don’t Break, Nick Easley, A.J. Epenesa
Hey, it’s the last Good, Bad & Ugly of the year, so why not have more than one Good?
At first glance, giving up 22 points to a statistically middle of the road team doesn’t seem all that impressive. Then, you look at the drive chart and see that WELL ACTUALLY, Iowa’s defense had a pretty special game on Tuesday. Consider that the two touchdowns they ceded were partially due to errors by the offense and special teams. First, Nate Stanley stared a receiver down, leading to an easy Mississippi State pick that was returned to the Iowa six-yard line. Bulldog running back Kylin Hill finished off the drive with a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ihmir Smith-Marsette went airborne, hit his own blocker and fumbled the ball away. On the very next play, the Iowa defense had their worst moment of the day, as they simply couldn’t tackle Nick Fitzgerald, who ran 33-yards for a touchdown. In about a minute and 30 seconds, the Iowa defense gave up 13 points because the Bulldogs only needed 39 yards to get them. Outside of those two drives where they were gifted a short field, the Bulldogs were held to nine points and only entered the Iowa red zone twice, both in the 4th quarter. Let’s talk about that.
Early in the 4th quarter, facing a 24-19 deficit, Fitzgerald exploded out of the gate by throwing a 51-yard bomb to Stephen Guidry, setting the Bulldogs up with a 1st and Goal at the Iowa one-yard line. The ensuing plays were as follows:
- 1st and GOAL at IOWA 01: Nick Fitzgerald rush for loss of 1 yard to the IOWA 2 (Nelson, Anthony).
- 2nd and GOAL at IOWA 02: Nick Fitzgerald rush for loss of 1 yard to the IOWA 3 (Nelson, Anthony; Hesse, Parker).
- 3rd and GOAL at IOWA 03: Nick Fitzgerald rush for no gain to the IOWA 3 (Nelson, Matt; Gervase, Jake).
Facing a 1st and goal on their own one-yard line, the Iowa defense held the SEC’s most prolific running quarterback and one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the nation to…-2 yards. The Bulldogs had to settle for a field goal.
On their next possession, Fitzgerald & Co. went back to work and once again, found success through the air. A 34-yard pass to Osirus Mitchell moved the Bulldogs from their own 35 to Iowa’s 31-yard line. After a couple of Kylin Hill rushes they were knocking on Iowa’s door once again, sitting at a 1st and 10 on Iowa’s 20-yard line. And then, this happened:
Santa had one more gift for Jake Gervase pic.twitter.com/1fmTnGrB0l
— On Iowa (@GazetteOnIowa) January 1, 2019
Instead of catching a go-ahead touchdown, Stephen Guidry bobbled the ball and it somehow ended up right in Jake Gervase’s hands. That was the last time the Bulldogs would see Iowa’s red zone.
Nick Easley was named the Outback Bowl MVP for his eight reception, 104 yard and two touchdown effort. 75 of those yards came on this beautiful play-action pass from Nate Stanley:
Following the game, Easley praised Coach Ferentz said that “The best decision I ever made was coming to Iowa”, which naturally led to some Kirk Tears (trademarked by the University of Iowa):
Ferentz crying in the corner as Outback MVP Nick Easley praises him.
You don't get this stuff when you're not here. pic.twitter.com/1UaMHkS4LY
— Todd Brommelkamp (@ToddBrommelkamp) January 1, 2019
Nick Fitzgerald was relatively untouched when he dropped back to pass on Tuesday, as the Hawkeye defense respected his ability to run and kept a number of linemen at home. There was a single play, though, that sort of encapsulated who A.J. Epenesa is as a player. Midway through the second quarter, this happened:
Iowa turned that fumble into another touchdown and took a 17-6 lead into halftime.
Reminder: Epenesa will be a full-time starter next season. Be scared, Big Ten quarterbacks.
The Bad: Iowa's Punting
Kirk…c’mon, man. How much longer do we have to do this? During the offseason I’ll take the time to really break down Colten Rastetter’s stats but from the jump, I’m comfortable saying that he is one of the worst statistical punters of the Kirk Ferentz era. In the Outback Bowl, Rastetter punted the ball seven times for 241 yards. That’s a very poor 34.42 yards per punt. One punt was for 12 yards. Another was for 27 yards. Did it cost them the game? In the end, no.
It’s just terribly aggravating when Kirk’s coaching philosophy relies on good field position but he continues to use a player that doesn’t place them in good field position. Shoring up the punt game should be a top off-season priority. I don’t care if you have to fly to Melbourne and recruit a guy off of a semi-pro rugby team. Make it happen, Kirk.
The Ugly: Mississippi State Being Shitty About Everything
If you haven’t read MasCasa’s postgame piece I strongly encourage you to as it includes a quote that I had to read twice to believe. Prior to pretty much every bowl game, teams go to local hospitals and meet with children as a showing of goodwill and outreach to the community. An example was this beautiful moment between Texas Longhorn TE Andrew Beck and a hearing-impaired family:
— Allstate Sugar Bowl (@SugarBowlNola) December 29, 2018
Anyway, some Iowa and Mississippi State players were on a goodwill visit to Tampa General Hospital. The Bulldogs sent some of their defensive stars (probably Montez Sweat, Jeffery Simmons and Johnathan Abram). Iowa, on the other hand, sent their walk-ons. Per Morehouse’s article, this went down:
“At one of the hospital visits, they were talking crap to some of our younger guys, saying ‘All-American, All-American, All-American. Draft pick, draft pick, draft pick,” senior safety Jake Gervase said. “So, I think that put a little fuel on the fire.”
Yes, Mississippi State players were talking trash to Iowa players while visiting sick kids at a hospital.
In the game, the Bulldogs were penalized eight times for 90 yards. There was targeting, a facemask penalty, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for doing a throat slash.
After the game, there was this from wide-receiver Osirus Mitchell:
Osirus Mitchell: We definitely beat ourselves the whole game. They werent better than us.
— Tyler Horka (@tbhorka) January 1, 2019
The Bulldog blogosphere was equally salty:
Mississippi State lost. But no one can honestly say that Iowa was the better team.
— Gil Maneclang (@Rx_MoreCowbell) January 1, 2019
Well, sorry Clanga. I guess if I hadn’t won my conference since 1941 or my division since 1998 or only had a whopping two Consensus All-Americans in 124 seasons, I’d be salty too. Sucks to suck.