TAMPA — According to the record books, Mississippi State had one of the best defensive showings in Outback Bowl history Tuesday, holding Iowa to just 199 yards of total offense and negative yardage on the ground.
But it takes more than solid defense to win championships — and apparently bowl games.
The Bulldogs fell 27-22 to Iowa in front of a Raymond James crowd of 40,518, but they'll be the new owners of several Outback Bowl records, including fewest offensive yards allowed, fewest rushing yards allowed (minus-15) and fewest first downs allowed (11). Iowa ran just 51 plays against the Bulldogs, only two more than the record low of 49 set in 1988.
The fact that his Iowa team was able to overcome all that and still win was just a testament to complete team football, DB Jake Gervase said.
"We were just fighting through the ups and the downs," he said. "We knew coming in that we were going to have to play our best defensive game due to the defense they had on the other side of the ball."
After sustaining a hit on a first-down run nine-and-a-half minutes into the fourth quarter, Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill walked slowly off the field and appeared to collapse into the arms of trainers on the sideline. Hill, who scored earlier in the game on a 1-yard pass from QB Nick Fitzgerald, remained out of the game for several minutes, but re-entered late, recording another reception with just more than two minutes to play.
When asked about Hill's status after the game, Moorhead said he didn't believe Hill had been knocked unconscious, and he defended his trainers' decision to allow him to re-enter.
"Not that I saw," Moorhead said. "He went through protocol. He was checked out by our trainers."
Mississippi State came into the Outback Bowl nationally ranked in a handful of defensive categories, including fifth in team tackles for loss (96). The Bulldogs wasted no time in adding to that figure against Iowa.
On the Hawkeyes' very first offensive play of the game, RB Mekhi Sargent took a handoff, only to be tackled in the backfield by DT Jeffery Simmons for a loss of 4. Two plays later, Iowa QB Nate Stanley was sacked for a loss of 9 by Simmons and DE Chauncey Rivers, giving Mississippi State its program record-tying 98th tackle for loss of the season.
SS Johnathan Abram recorded the record-setting 99th on Iowa's next drive, stopping Sargent once again for a loss of 4. In total, the Bulldogs accrued seven tackles for a loss of 37 yards against Iowa.
Squeaky clean football
Before Tuesday's matchup, Iowa averaged five penalties per game and was ranked 21st nationally in fewest total penalty yards (539). Against Mississippi State, the Hawkeyes were even cleaner.
Iowa didn't receive a penalty in the game, a first for any team in the Outback Bowl. The previous record was held by Michigan, who was penalized just once for 5 yards in 1988.
"That's huge," Gervase said. "Coach (Kirk Ferentz) always stresses the importance of clean football, and I know they had a lot of penalties, some costly ones for them. That's big for us."
Mississippi State, on the other hand, had more than enough miscues to go around, accruing eight penalties for 90 yards, 70 o in the first half. The Bulldogs had two penalties for 30 yards — one for unsportsmanlike conduct and another for targeting — on the drive that set up Iowa's first score, a 44-yard field goal from PK Miguel Recinos.
"More than anything it was the cumulative effect," Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. "We had a long run called back for an offensive facemask, a first and goal at the 1 called back for a hold."