TAMPA, Fla. — There was no happy ending to Iowa’s season or for the seniors who won 20 games in a two-year span.
In a second-half pounding that forced Iowa fans from the Raymond James Stadium exits with 11 minutes left in the game, the Florida Gators suffocated and sped past the Hawkeyes 30-3 in the Outback Bowl on Monday. It was the Hawkeyes’ fifth consecutive bowl loss.
Florida’s vaunted defense stifled Iowa’s passing game in every possibly way, from smothering wide receivers down the field to tackling in space. Safety Chauncey Gardner Jr., had 2 interceptions, including a 58-yard touchdown return 16 seconds into the fourth quarter. That play gave the Gators (9-4) an insurmountable 24-3 lead.
Iowa (8-5) had hits chances early with a pair of interceptions, but only one turned into points. With the score tied 3-3 halfway through the second quarter, the Hawkeyes faced a fourth-and-goal at the Florida 1. But Iowa RB LeShun Daniels was stuffed for a 2-yard loss. Two Florida drives later, Gators RB Mark Henderson took a pass in the flat and raced 85 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Iowa drove 62 yards to start the second half but kicker Keith Duncan pushed a 30-yard attempt wide right. Florida capitalized with its own 7-minute drive, but they cashed it in when QB Austin Appleby connected with DeAndre Goolsby for a 6-yard score and a 17-3 lead.
— Bob (@Hawkmania77) January 2, 2017
5 key things we learned Monday
- The Iowa passing game is what we thought it was: anemic. The Hawkeyes completed just 7 of 24 passes for 55 yards with 3 interceptions. Four completions went to RB Akrum Wadley and two others went to tight ends. There’s really no sugarcoating this: Iowa’s passing offense was potentially the worst in major-college football this year. The sad part is, Iowa had a quarterback capable of so much more.
- Iowa still struggles to tackle in space. At least four different defenders had opportunities to tackle Thompson on his 85-yard scoring catch-and-run. First, weakside LB Bo Bower whiffed, followed by CB Desmond King. Down the field, both safeties, Anthony Gair and Brandon Snyder, also failed to secure tackles. It wasn’t just that play alone. When the Hawkeyes had the Gators backed up inside their 15, OLB Ben Niemann had a clear shot on RB Jordan Scarlett and missed. Scarlett rushed up the field for 46 yards. This was the one sore spot defensively the Hawkeyes never could shore up.
- Wadley is Iowa’s best running back since Shonn Greene. Wadley passed the 1,000 yard barrier in the first half, but was the only offensive player to do anything against the Florida defense. Wadley ran between the tackles and led the team in receptions. He had a few jukes that were NFL-caliber plays. He finished with 115 yards on the ground against a team filled with future pros.
- Speed is still speed. Florida had more players who could move in space than did Iowa. That’s on defense and offense, up front and along the perimeter. Iowa has few athletes who can match Florida in that area, and the Hawkeyes were unable to negate that disadvantage.
- To avoid being completely negative after another bowl game defeat … Iowa has a solid pass rush on the horizon. Sacks by underclassmen Josey Jewell, Anthony Nelson and Aaron Mends show the potential for 2017. Add sophomore defensive ends Parker Hesse and Matt Nelson and the future is bright.
— RaymondJames Stadium (@RJStadium) January 2, 2017
When the Hawkeyes faced fourth-and-goal at the Florida 1 and failed to score any points. Iowa lined up three tight ends, a fullback and Daniels at tailback. Two Iowa tight ends moved on to the second level and locked up their defender on a left-side stretch play. Daniels followed a brief opening but was met by Florida’s Marcell Harris, who zoomed past Iowa FB Brady Ross at the 3-yard line to stop Daniels for a 2-yard loss. The play kept Iowa from scoring, and the game’s momentum changed with that play.
Staying away from the obvious replacements, what is Iowa going to do at wide receiver in the future? Yes, Florida has tremendous players at cornerback — and virtually everywhere else on defense — but only one wide receiver caught a pass Monday. Iowa does get Matt VandeBerg back next season, but it’s inexcusable to not develop even average playmakers on the outside.
Could Iowa pass on Florida? The answer was no. A few routes here and there but nothing of note downfield. Iowa completed seven passes and four were to Wadley. There’s your answer.
Iowa QB C.J. Beathard completed just 7 of 23 passes for 55 yards and 3 interceptions. It was a tough way for Beathard to end an otherwise solid career.
What it means
Iowa did plenty of soul-searching about bowl games before this season, yet it didn’t produce results. The offseason once again will be unpleasant after this loss, but in the big picture Iowa won’t change that much.