Iowa football: Hawks prepared for defensive struggle vs Mississippi State

The Iowa football team is back in action tomorrow against the #18 Mississippi State Bulldogs in what is likely to be a defensive struggle.

Throughout the 2018 season, the Iowa football team was led by one of the stingiest defenses in the nation in route to a 8-4 record. Coincidentally enough, the Hawks are taking on one of the few teams that statistically appears to be better than them on paper.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs have the third best defense in the nation in yards allowed per game (268) and the top defense in the nation in terms of points allowed per game (12). Keep in mind these numbers came against primarily SEC opponents including the Alabama Crimson Tide who had their lowest scoring total of the year versus the Bulldogs.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, while their defense is elite, their offense wasn’t even in the same realm. The Bulldogs offense, led by dual threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, has just the 69th best offense in the nation, with much of those stats being padded against cupcakes like Louisiana Tech, Louisiana, and Stephen F. Austin.

Despite the offense not exactly being the strong point of the Bulldogs, they will provide a tough challenge for the Iowa football defense that is ranked 7th in the nation in yards allowed. First-year Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead is fresh off of spending two years with the Penn State Nittany Lions as the offensive coordinator, and the offense that Mississippi State runs is very similar to that of the Nittany Lions. For obvious reasons, the Hawks have some experience playing the Nittany Lions and the issue that Trace McSorley presents when preparing a defensive game plan.

In Kirk’s Outback Bowl press conference, he made this comment comparing the two:

The biggest similarity is they both in my mind, the quarterback was the catalyst. I think that’s really obvious. You look at Mississippi State, you look at the amount of carries he’s had relative to anybody in the conference not just quarterbacks, you know, he is where everything starts with their offensive football team.

I felt the same way about Penn State. That quarterback is a tremendous player. Now, they look different but both of them are leaders, they are winners and you know, so that to me is where it all kind of starts, and if you don’t have an answer, somewhat of an answer, you’re going to be in trouble there.

Containing Fitzgerald is key for the Iowa defense to prosper in this game as we noted earlier in the week.

With a month to prepare, the Iowa football team should be ready to keep Fitzgerald in check, and hopefully on the offensive side of the ball Brian Ferentz has a few tricks of his sleeve despite losing All-American tight end Noah Fant to the NFL Draft.

Whatever it is, it’s likely to not include as many two tight end formations as we have come to see from the Iowa football team. Kirk had this to say when asked about updates to the offense with Fant’s departure.

I think common sense, it will probably change a little bit.

One of the objectives offensively is get your best guys on the field, and I don’t mean that in a belittling way to Nate, but you know, those are judgments we’ll make and decisions we’ll make, down and distance, all those things factor into game situations.

To be honest, I’m not sure Iowa’s offense will be up to the task of taking on Mississippi State’s stout defense, but I am excited to find out either way tomorrow morning. It’s been a long month of no football so we better savor tomorrow’s game because it’s about to be an even longer eight months without Hawkeye football.