TAMPA, Fla. — A familiar story played out Tuesday for the No. 18 Mississippi State football team.
No. 18 MSU’s defense held Iowa to -15 yards rushing on 20 carries in the Outback Bowl, but it wasn’t enough, as MSU lost 27-22. The effort marked the first time since 2000 a Bulldog defense held an opponent to zero or negative rushing yards.
“I think he did a very good job,” MSU coach Joe Moorhead said of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. “Our preparation, having an idea how we wanted to attack them and how to get an advantage at the point of attack, and certainly our guys executed up front and at the second level.”
MSU junior defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons set the tone when he stopped Iowa’s first play for a 4-yard loss. He joined defensive end Chauncey Rivers in a sack on third down of the same series.
All told, the Bulldogs (8-5) had seven tackles for a loss that cost Iowa 34 yards. Simmons led the pack with two-and-a-half tackles for loss. Safety Johnathan Abram had one-and-a-half.
“Good game plan, for one,” sophomore linebacker and Starkville native Willie Gay Jr. said. He had four tackles and an interception he returned for 46 yards. “We executed all week, stopped the run all week in practice. The scout team gave us a great look. We were confident in stopping the run, and that’s every week.”
With seven tackles for a loss against Iowa (9-4), MSU set the school record for tackles for a loss in a season (103). The same defense also held opponents to 33 first-quarter points, the best since the 2000 Bulldogs held opponents to 27.
Day’s season ends well
A challenging season for sophomore punter Tucker Day ended on a high note.
Day set the Outback Bowl record for punting average by averaging 50.4 yards per punt. He punted five times, one of them downed inside the 20, and set a new career high with his 70-yard punt in the third quarter. It was the longest punt by a Bulldog since Devon Bell sent one the same distance in 2014.
The exiting seniors ended their careers with 32 wins, making them just the 10th class in MSU history to end their careers with 30 or more wins.
They also contributed to four bowl bids, which helped MSU join Alabama, Georgia, LSU, and Texas A&M as the only Southeastern Conference schools to play in a bowl game every year of this decade.
Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald (20 carries, 103 yards, touchdown) hit the 100-yard mark for the 21st time in his career. His two touchdowns responsible for — one passing, one rushing — gave him 101 for his career, joining Dak Prescott as the lone Bulldogs to amass more than 100.
Fitzgerald ended his career first in school history in rushing touchdowns (46) and second in career rushing yards (3,607), career total offense (9,814), and passing touchdowns (55). He is third in career passing yards (6,207).
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson