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Nate Stanley tosses 3 TDs as Iowa tops No. 18 Mississippi State in Outback Bowl

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The last couple of trips to the Outback Bowl have not been kind to Iowa, but the first college football game to played in 2019 had a much more enjoyable outcome for the Hawkeyes. Iowa (9-4) used a big second quarter and a strong defensive showing in the fourth quarter to hold on for a 27-22 victory over No. 18 Mississippi State (8-5).

Mississippi State had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter with a first-and-goal from the Iowa one-yard line, but three straight runs by Nick Fitzgerald were stuffed by the Hawkeyes and the Bulldogs settled for a short field goal by Jace Christmann to cut the Iowa lead to 24-22. Fitzgerald got one final chance to deliver a win for Mississippi State with the Bulldogs down 27-22 in the final minutes of the game, but an incomplete pass on fourth down allowed Iowa to run out the remaining seconds of the clock to wrap up the win.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley completed 21 of 31 pass attempts for 214 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The running game had a rough afternoon against the Mississippi State defense, however, as the Hawkeyes combined for a loss of 14 yards running the ball, including sacks of Stanley. Mississippi State had a much more productive day on the ground with 190 yards as a team, fueled by 103 yards by Fitzgerald, who also passed for 152 yards on 14-of-32.

Nick Easley caught two of the touchdown passes thrown by Stanley. And although it took until the second half of the game to get him in the box score, T.J. Hockenson had three catches for 43 yards that came in important moments.

The win by Iowa was the first for the Big Ten this bowl season against the SEC after dropping the previous two matchups on the bowl calendar. The Iowa win also put the Big Ten above .500 this bowl season, pending the results of other bowl games being played on Jan. 1. The loss by Mississippi State at least temporarily dropped the SEC to .500 with other games still being played.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is now 8-8 all-time in bowl games and has won two consecutive bowl games after snapping a five-game losing streak in bowl games a year ago in the Pinstripe Bowl. This was the first bowl game for Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead as a head coach, so his search for a bowl victory will continue in the 2019 season.

This, of course, means Outback Steakhouse will be giving away free coconut shrimp to customers as the Big Ten won the Outback Bowl. A win by the SEC would have awarded customers free bloomin’ onion.

Big plays ignite Iowa to halftime lead on Mississippi State in Outback Bowl

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Mississippi State seemed to start the game off well on defense, but big plays by Iowa’s offense and defense have stunned the Bulldogs in the first half of the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Iowa turned a 6-0 deficit after one quarter of play into a 17-6 advantage at halftime with big plays on both sides of the football.

Mississippi State cornerback Maurice Smitherman was ejected from the game early in the second quarter for targeting on Iowa’s Brandon Smith. Smith kept on his feet after the contact was made and scrambled to pick up two yards on the play by sweeping to the other side of the field, but the 15-yard penalty moved the Hawkeyes to the Mississippi State 33-yard line. The drive ended with Iowa scoring their first points of the game by way of a Miguel Recinos field goal from 43 yards.

Iowa took the lead with just one play on their next offensive series when Nate Stanley found a wide open Nick Easley down the field, and Easley took off and managed to reach the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown before a defender could close in on him with the angle.

Things got even worse for Mississippi State on the ensuing possession. Nick Fitzgerald was strip-sacked by Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa, giving the Hawkeyes the football at the Mississippi State 13-yard line. Stanley then connected with Ihmir Smith-Marsette two plays later to give Iowa a 17-6 lead.

Mississippi State looked like they had a chance to cut into the lead just before halftime, but a holding penalty at the line of scrimmage wiped out a big pass play to inside the 10-yard line.

Iowa QB Nate Stanley puts NFL on hold, will return to Hawkeyes in 2019

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz received some good news today when quarterback Nate Stanley decided not to leave for the NFL next year. Stanley has decided not to pursue any additional feedback about his NFL draft prospects and will instead focus on returning for one more season with the Hawkeyes next fall.

“Talking with [quarterback coach Ken O’Keefe] and coach Ferentz, they know a lot about that process,” Stanley said on Monday, according to The Daily Iowan. “I just decided to take the feedback they had, because I don’t think it would have been much different from what they said to what the review board would have said. I just decided to take their advice and let it be, move on, and get back to work.”

Stanley passed for 2,638 yards and 23 touchdowns with nine interceptions this season, with one game left to play in the bowl season. He has already exceeded his passing yardage total from 2017 but is three touchdowns shy of his 26 touchdown passes from last season. Stanley said he received some pointers on what to work on in the offseason, such as mobility and accuracy. Stanley was hardly a threat to run the ball with 22 rushing yards this season, and he completed 58.6 percent of his pass attempts this fall.

The return of Stanley gives Ferentz a reliable option coming back to play quarterback, which is typically beneficial to have in college football. That will allow Ferentz and the coaching staff to focus on bulking up other positions for the 2019 campaign, in which Iowa should once again be a team in the mix for the Big Ten West Division as they usually are.

Northwestern clinches Big Ten West in 14-10 win at No. 21 Iowa

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Northwestern (6-4, 6-1 Big Ten) is heading to the Big Ten championship game. The Wildcats clinched the Big Ten West Division crown on Saturday with a 14-10 win at Iowa on the same day Wisconsin and Purdue each lost, eliminating the Badgers and the Boilermakers from the running.

Clayton Thorson completed a 32-yard pass to Bennett Skowronek with 9:27 to play in the fourth quarter to give Northwestern a 14-10 lead after an instant replay confirmed the call on the field and an extra point. It is a play that will likely be played in the Northwestern highlights for years to come.

Northwestern still had some football to be played though, and the defense rose to the occasion by forcing Iowa to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession. With a chance to add to the lead, however, Northwestern quickly saw their next drive stall in part due to a false start penalty on a 3rd & 1. With Iowa making their way to midfield on the following possession, the Northwestern defense forced Mekhi Sargent to fumble and Cameron Ruiz came up with the loose ball with 4:26 to play in the game. With one more chance, Iowa again fumbled away the football around midfield in the final minutes of the game.

Thorson completed 15 of 30 passes for 122 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, more than making up for the two interceptions he tossed earlier in the game on this particular day. Freshman running back Isaiah Bowser had a career day with 165 rushing yards and a touchdown. A fourth down run to pick up a first down in the final minute allowed Northwestern to run out the clock on the clincher.

Northwestern still has two more games to play in the regular season, beginning next week on the road at Minnesota. The Gophers just demolished Purdue, helping Northwestern accelerate their division-clinching scenario in the process. No matter what happens next week against Minnesota or the week after at home against Illinois, Northwestern will be heading to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 1. Their opponent is still to be determined, although it will pit the Wildcats in a rematch against Michigan or against Ohio State. The Big Ten East Division may not be decided until the final day of the regular season when Ohio State hosts Michigan, although it is possible for the Wolverines to wrap up the East division next week with a win and an Ohio State loss.

Iowa has now lost three straight games and will have to try snapping their losing ways on the road next week at Illinois.

No. 17 Penn State finds a way to win a close one at home by holding off No. 18 Iowa

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No. 17 Penn State (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) lost their last two games at home despite having a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. As Penn State took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter against No. 18 Iowa (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, the Nittany Lions once again had to avoid a fourth-quarter collapse to get a win. Perhaps the third time was the charm for Penn State.

Penn State held on for a 30-24 win, holding Iowa off the scoreboard on their final two possessions of the game, including the last possession of the game as the clock expired.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley left the game for a couple of possessions in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury, but he returned in the second quarter for a quick series and was back for the remainder of the game after halftime. A 51-yard touchdown run by McSorley early in the third quarter let everyone know he was feeling just fine.

Tommy Stevens filled in for McSorley in his absence and scored a game-tying touchdown for the Nittany Lions in a messy first half immediately following a big interception return by John Reid.

It was quite a messy first half of football too. Iowa scored 17 points in the most Iowa way imaginable; two safeties as Penn State sailed snaps over the punter’s head, two field goals, and a touchdown thrown by a punter to a defensive lineman on a fake field goal. Iowa also had some luck with fumbles with three forced fumbles by Penn State all recovered by the Hawkeyes. Penn State’s defense did a good job of not letting Iowa do much on offense, but the Hawkeyes finally got tight end Noah Fant involved in the fourth quarter after never finding a way to get him open before that.

As Fant settled in and Nate Stanley got a bit more comfortable, Iowa applied pressure on Penn State with a chance to grab the lead. But confusion at the line of scrimmage with Stanley and Fant led to an interception just outside the goal line with Iowa trailing by six. Penn State was unable to wrap up the game even though Iowa ran out of timeouts on the ensuing possession, but the Hawkeyes had one more chance. It appeared Iowa could have moved into Penn State territory in the final minute, but a catch on the field was overturned by video review.

Penn State will be on the road next week against Michigan. The Wolverines have not lost since their season-opening loss at Notre Dame and Michigan is the only unbeaten team left within Big Ten play, putting them in first place in the Big Ten East. The home team has won in blowout fashion each of the last two years in this series, and Penn State will have a lot to clean up if they are going to avoid allowing that trend to continue.

Iowa falls into a three-way tie for second place in the Big Ten West with Wisconsin and Purdue. All three lost on Saturday, and Northwestern now sits alone atop the Big Ten West Division after their home win against the Badgers. But Iowa still has the opportunity to seize some control of the division’s fate with their next two games. Iowa visits Purdue next week and then hosts Northwestern. If Iowa can win each of those two games and avoid a head-to-head tie with Wisconsin at the end of the season, they will play for the Big Ten championship. In short, the next few weeks in the Big Ten West should be very interesting.