TAMPA, Fla. (MSU Athletics/WTVA) - Joe Moorhead and the 18th-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs went through their first full Outback Bowl practice Friday morning at Jesuit High School in Tampa. Friday's practice, which lasted just under two hours, began with periods of individual drills and then featured 11-on-11 situations. Following practice, defensive coordinator/safeties coach Bob Shoop and select defensive players, including All-Americans Jeffery Simmons and Johnathan Abram, met with the media.
The Bulldogs feature numerous future NFL players who intend on playing in their final game, including Abram and Simmons who spoke Friday about playing in their final collegiate game.
"It's big," Simmons said. "For example with me, I just declared. It was questionable for some guys, but we love these guys. We've been through a lot with ups and downs the whole season. One last ride won't hurt. We're going to get it done. We get to have fun and get this win."
Echoing Simmons, Abram said: "We all care about each other as a team. We made a group decision to come back and play in this game because it's not about us. It's not about a single person. It's about the team more than anything. That's what we all wanted to show."
More Than Football
After practice, eight members of the team -- Johnathan Abram, Stephen Adegoke, Joel Baldwin, Nick Fitzgerald, Gerri Green, Kody Schexnayder, Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat -- spent the rest of the afternoon at Tampa General Hospital visiting patients.
Players Night At Splitsville
Both the Bulldogs and Hawkeyes will enjoy an evening of fun and games at Splitsville at Sparkman Wharf along the downtown Tampa waterfront.
MSU will return to Jesuit High School on Saturday morning for another practice before spending the afternoon at Busch Gardens theme park. Moorhead and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz also will participate in the Outback Bowl Head Coaches Press Conference in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn Westshore Hotel at 12:15 p.m. ET.
Special Edition of "Dawg Talk"
A special Outback Bowl preview edition of "Dawg Talk" will air from 7-8 p.m. ET (6-7 p.m. CT) on Sunday, Dec. 30 from 3 Daughters Brewing on 222 22nd Street in St. Petersburg, two days prior to the Bulldogs' New Year's Day matchup against Iowa.
MSU (8-4) is set to face Iowa (8-4) at noon ET/11 a.m. CT on Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulldogs are seeking back-to-back nine-win seasons for just the second time in program history. For complete gameday information, visit HailState.com/Gameday.
The show will be hosted by the "Voice of the Bulldogs" Neil Price and feature analyst Matt Wyatt along with special guests. Fans are invited to attend.
Affiliates of the MSU Sports Network, including 100.9 FM in Starkville, will carry the hour-long broadcast from 6-7 p.m. CT. It can also be heard for free on HailState.com/plus and on the TuneIn App.
Buy Bowl Tickets
Tickets for the New Year's Day matchup remain on sale at HailState.com/bowltickets. Fans who purchase tickets through HailState.com/bowltickets can receive a free Egg Bowl lapel pin, dinner with Coach Moorhead and an athletic facility tour.
For more information on the Bulldogs, follow the MSU football team on Twitter, like them on Facebook and join them on Instagram by searching for "HailStateFB."
Quotes from MSU
Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop
On Iowa's offense …
"Iowa is a very good team. It starts with their offensive line. They are very well coached. Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and his son do a great job with the offensive line. They've got the Mackey Award winner at tight end. They've got some good running backs who run hard. They're one-cut runners. They run the inside and outside zones and stick their foot in the ground and cut. Catch the ball well out of the backfield. They have a group of receivers that are very, very good. No. 84 is a very good receiver on third down. And the quarterback – he's big. He's strong. He's a pro style quarterback. They are a little different from the teams we face week in, week out, which is what kind of makes bowls so unique and so special that we don't face a team that's not 21-12, 22-13 personnel. They have some different personnel groupings. The disadvantage is we don't see that a lot. The advantage for us they won't know how exactly we're going to be lined up for some of that stuff. We're excited. You asked me what worries me? Nothing. We've got a good group of guys. They are going to practice hard. We focus on tendencies and things like that, but we really focus on our execution. It's really about how we come out and play on Tuesday at noon."
On stopping Nate Stanley …
"He's big, and he's strong. He certainly makes plays. What he does really, really well – he hasn't been sacked very often because he's willing to stand in there and throw. He probably runs a little better than you think. We've been watching him. It's probably because of the uniform, but we've certainly made the comparison to a guy like Ben Roethlisberger. He's hard to tackle. We're a team that pressures. We have different ways of pressuring, whether it be from the perimeter or up the middle. If we can get him off his point, so to speak, or off his set point – we think that's a real advantage to us."
On what has allowed MSU's defense to be successful this season …
"We have good players. We've got a real good culture. We've got really good players. We have a head coach that allows us to be creative. Our players really, really play hard. For the people of Tampa, you're going to see a team come out on Tuesday at noon that is a proud group of players from the state of Mississippi who are proud to be here, proud to represent their state and university and will give everything they've got."
On how well the team retained the game plan over break …
"That's always a concern. There's such a layoff from two days before Thanksgiving to playing on New Year's Day. You see that every year in bowl games. We were just talking about that. Even my good friend Manny Diaz, who is the defensive coordinator at Miami, they are a good team, but they got smoked yesterday. You see teams with lesser talent beat teams with more talent. The things we've talked about for bowl games is the desire to be there – and our players really want to be here. As I said, we're very proud to be here. We're excited to be a part of this bowl game. It's about tackling. You can't lose your focus on tackling because you don't tackle for a bit of time right there. It's about ball security, so we've got to have a good nose for the ball and hunt the ball. And it's about special teams, you see those things suffer in bowl games. Those have been points of emphasis. And the first couple weeks of bowl practice are really program development. You're keeping your players fresh that have played a lot, but you're also giving an opportunity to practice some of your younger players. Last week, we really started to focus on Iowa, so we really got back into the game plan. Yesterday was our first day down here practicing for Iowa. The players retained the game plan pretty well. They're very locked in. They're very focused. As a coaching staff, we're very fortunate to have a group of mature, older players who get what we are trying to accomplish."
On if any of the regular-season opponents remind him of Iowa …
"No. I'm not trying to be funny, but there really isn't. I'm sure Iowa is searching on their cut ups. We have about 73 snaps of base defense all year. Base defense meaning four down linemen, three linebackers and four DBs. Some of the personnel groupings they present, we're going to have to play base defense. You guys can do the math – 73 snaps divided by 12 games means about six a game. So yeah, there are bits and pieces here and there, but to the extent that they utilize some of these personnel groupings is different than the SEC West and is different from the SEC in general. I always think that's part of the fun of bowl games. That's the unique matchups and things along those lines. Again, going back to the Miami-Wisconsin game yesterday, I'm sure Miami doesn't play teams that have Wisconsin's style of play. What we are though is that we're tough, and we'll match toughness against anybody. We're psychical, and we run to the ball very well. Those skills and those characteristics have stood the test of time no matter what type of offense you're playing against."
On MSU's draft prospects electing to play in the Outback Bowl …
"That's a great point, and I'm glad you've brought it up. We have three players on defense who are potential first-round draft picks – Jeffery Simmons, Montez Sweat and Johnathan Abram. As good of football players as they are, they're even better people, and they are great teammates. To me with all the players electing not to play in the bowl games and things like that, I don't even know if that was an issue with these guys. I know it was brought us casually, but these guys wanted to be here. They wanted to finish this. We're a fairly highly ranked defense right now. We always talk about championship standard. We talk about being a championship defense. These guys won't think the 2018 season is complete until we finish this game. Then we'll look back and say what we did or didn't accomplish, what we accomplished as individuals, and then they'll move forward with individual goals and things like that. I know I, personally, and this staff is appreciative of those guys for their unselfishness and willingness to prepare and practice. And we're ready for a big bowl game against Iowa."
All-American Safety Johnathan Abram
On stopping Nate Stanley …
"We've got a really good front up front, so we're going to show a couple things on the back end that we'll disguise real well."
On if he believes Mississippi State has more talented personnel than Iowa …
"At the end of the day, the most talented team doesn't win. It's about the team that goes out and executes the most and plays the hardest. That's who wins the game at the end of the day."
On if the team is hungry to win the bowl game …
"Oh yeah, most definitely. Coach (Bob) Shoop says the team that wants to be here, the team that tackles well and the team that plays good on special teams is the team that usually wins bowl games."
On electing to play in the game despite first-round draft pick potential …
"We all care about each other as a team. We made a group decision to come back and play in this game because it's not about us. It's not about a single person. It's about the team more than anything. That's what we all wanted to show. You've got a lot of guys that go sit out these games, but if you really think about it what is two weeks going to change in the process of coming out for the draft or combine? It really doesn't change anything. You know what you can do. If you can run a four 40, you're going to run a four 40. If you can't throw, you can't throw. Two weeks isn't going to change what's going to happen over the course of the next couple of months before the draft, so I think it is kind of selfish."
On defending T.J. Hockenson …
"We've got a couple things we're going to do. We're going play a lot of zones, a lot of man. More than anything, we just really got to go out and play. We're not really focusing on one player. We're focusing on the group as a whole."
All-American Defensive Tackle Jeffery Simmons
On going up against Iowa's offensive line …
"They are pretty tough. Mostly offensive linemen are big and wide. We try to kind of come off on you, but that's just how we play. We're tough. We're just playing our game. We like those types of games. We're prepared for it."
On what has made the defense successful this season …
"It starts up front. We've got probably one of the best d-fronts in the nation. We get penetration. We do our job up front. Everybody on the back end – linebackers, corners – we've got the swagger. The whole defense has that swagger. Everybody is doing their job. We try to do a little bit more than our job at times. Like I said, we've got that swagger on this defense."
On guys electing to play despite being high draft picks…
"It's big. For example with me, I just declared. It was questionable for some guys, but we love these guys. We've been through a lot with ups and downs the whole season. One last ride won't hurt. We're going to get it done. We get to have fun and get this win."
On what a bowl game win would mean for this team …
"It's going to be big, especially for (Joe) Moorhead. This is his first time with us. This is his first bowl game with us. Just for the program, coming all the way down here to Florida and playing Iowa. It's going to be big."
On if a weight has been lifted since declaring for the draft …
"Yeah, it has. Especially just talking with my uncle, he's said just go have fun. You've got one more game with your guys. I'm here to have fun and get this win. I've really just been focused on just that – having fun and winning this thing."
On what this team means to him...
"It means a lot. With coaching changes, ups and downs we've had this year, the wins and losses, we've been through a lot. The offseason, everybody tried to adapt. We've got that bond. We've done built a bond with these coaches. Coaches built a bond with these players. From that point on, everybody has been tight. It's big for everybody to have that type of connection and bond."