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Iowa’s Anthony Nelson becomes third Hawkeye to declare for 2019 draft

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For the third time since its 2018 regular season ended, Iowa has prematurely lost a player to the big boy football league.

In late November, standout tight end Noah Fant announced he was leaving the Hawkeyes early for the 2019 NFL Draft; shortly thereafter, teammate and safety Amani Hooker did the same.  Late Monday afternoon, defensive end Anthony Nelson followed suit by using Twitter to announce that he too will forego his remaining eligibility and declare for the upcoming draft.

Nelson was second on the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss (13.5), sacks (9.5) and quarterback hits (six) this season.  Following the 2018 regular season, the defensive lineman earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.

Unofficially, Nelson is the 106th player to declare early for the 2019 NFL draft, tying the all-time record set just last year.

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.

Texas A&M’s Jace Sternberger to forego senior season, enter draft

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One of the top tight ends in the nation has decided to take his leave of College Station and ply his football wares at the next level.

On Twitter early Tuesday afternoon, Jace Sternberger announced that he is “foregoing my senior year and declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft.” “Aggieland is a special place, and I will always be proud to be an Aggie,” Sternberger wrote to end his social media missive.

Sternberger’s announcement comes a day after A&M woodshedded NC State in the Gator Bowl.

Sternberger, who began his collegiate playing career at Kansas before transferring, leads all tight ends nationally in touchdown catches this season with 10 and is second at 17.3 yards per catch (among tight ends with at least 20 receptions).  His 48 catches are sixth at the position, while his 832 receiving yards were second to UCLA’s Caleb Wilson’s 965.

He was named a consensus first-team All-American at the conclusion of the regular season and was also a finalist for the 2018 Mackey Award won by Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson.

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.

Blake Cashman becomes second Minnesota player to skip bowl game

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A second Minnesota football player has decided to end the collegiate portion of his playing career prematurely.

On Instagram Tuesday, Blake Cashman announced that, “after a lot of thought and discussions with people close to me,” he has decided he will not play in Minnesota’s Quick Lane Bowl matchup with Georgia Tech Dec. 26. “This was a very a hard decision for me, but I feel in my heart that getting a jump start on training will give me the best opportunity at the next level,” the linebacker wrote.

This season serves as the senior’s final year of eligibility.

Cashman currently leads the Gophers in tackles with 104 and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 15.  His 2½ sacks are second on the team, while his five pass breakups are good for third.

Earlier this month, teammate and starting offensive tackle Donnell Greene also used Instagram to announce that he has signed with an agent and will not play in the Gophers’ bowl game.  Greene and Cashman are two of at least a baker’s dozen players who have sidelined themselves for their respective team’s bowl game.

  • West Virginia offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (HERE)
  • Iowa tight end Noah Fant (HERE)
  • Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary
  • West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (HERE)
  • NC State wide receiver Kelvin Harmon (HERE)
  • Arizona State wide receiver N'Keal Harry (HERE)
  • Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill (HERE)
  • Houston defensive lineman Ed Oliver (HERE)
  • NC State linebacker Germaine Pratt (HERE)
  • South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel (HERE)
  • LSU cornerback Greedy Williams (HERE)