TAMPA, Fla. • The Outback Bowl might be Mississippi State’s first game against Iowa on the gridiron but it is not Joe Moorhead’s first run-in with the Hawkeyes.
In fact, Moorhead has matched wits with Iowa and coach Kirk Ferentz in each of the past two seasons while serving as offensive coordinator at Penn State.
“We feel we’ve got a pretty good idea of what they want to do on (the defensive) side of the ball,” Moorhead said.
Moorhead went 2-0 in his coordinator capacity against the Hawkeyes and rolled up 1,178 yards in the process. The Nittany Lions won 41-14 at home in 2016 with 599 yards, 359 of which came on the ground.
The following year, Iowa nearly pulled the upset over then fourth-ranked Penn State. Although the Nittany Lions finished with 579 yards, they needed a 7-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson as time expired for a 21-19 win.
“The biggest thing about facing Iowa’s defense is that on first and second down, they don’t do a ton of stuff but they are tremendous,” Moorhead said. “The sum is greater than the parts. They have a very sound scheme, play with incredible physicality and coach (Phil) Parker and his staff do a great job knowing how you’re going to attack and making in-game adjustments.
“On third down, they get a little more creative as well as on goal line and in the red zone.”
Focus on the QB
Ferentz said he sees the similarities in Moorhead’s scheme from those Penn State games that he has adapted into the Bulldogs’ playbook.
“The biggest similarity is that the quarterback is the catalyst,” Ferentz said. “I think that’s really obvious. You look at Mississippi State, you look at the amount of carries (Nick Fitzgerald) had relative to anybody in the conference – not just quarterbacks. He is where everything starts with their offensive football team. I felt the same way about Penn State.”
Iowa is ranked seventh nationally in total defense, surrendering just 289.6 yards and 17.4 points per game. The Hawkeyes ended the regular season with 18 interceptions, tied for the most in the country, and had the second-most sacks in the Big Ten with 34.
“Like anything, coaches tweak and change and make adjustments,” Moorhead said. “And with a great staff, we’re certainly expecting a challenge like we saw the last two years we played them.”