Iowa was not the better football team. And the Hawkeyes did not do enough to win Wednesday when it faced No. 14 LSU in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
Jeremy Hill rushed for 216 yards and two scores and three Hawkeye turnovers were too much to overcome during LSU’s 21-14 win at Raymond James Stadium.
"LSU made a lot of big plays today and did what they had to do to get the victory," said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. "It was a hard fought game out there. I am proud of our football team, they competed hard today. We came up short today, but credit them."
The Hawkeyes gained less than 80 yards of offense in the first half and only finished with 233 in the game. Iowa also rushed for just 76 yards.
"Their defense made it tough on us," said Ferentz. "They made it tough for us to move the ball consistently. We did a little better job in the second half, and it was a good defensive game. Both teams were playing good defense, and sometimes that's what happens when good teams get together."
LSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead and maintained that advantage into halftime.
The Hawkeyes got on the board in the third quarter thanks to an interception and big return from John Lowdermilk. Lowdermilk’s first career interception could have had a pick 6 but let go of the ball just before he crossed the goal line. Iowa maintained possession and Mark Weisman bailed out the Hawkeye safety with a 1 yard TD run, but LSU rebounded with another dominant drive, mostly on the ground by Hill, who averaged 7.7 yards during each of his 28 carries.
C.J. Beathard, who played the entire fourth quarter after Jake Rudock went out with an injury, threw a TD pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley with 1:42 to play in the game, but Iowa couldn’t recover the onside kick.
The Hawkeyes were just 6-of-19 on third down and could not convert their only two attempts on fourth down. The Tigers’ second scoring drive covered just 39 yards after Martin-Manley misplayed a punt in Iowa territory. That was just one of Iowa’s three miscues as Rudock and Beathard both threw interceptions.
On his first full possession under center, Beathard led the Hawkeyes to midfield before Iowa turned the ball over on downs.
The redshirt freshman completed 2-of-3 passes on the series, including an 8-yarder to senior C.J. Fiedorowicz into LSU territory, but a fake punt attempt on fourth and three saw Weisman gain just one yard. Weisman finished with 37 yards on 18 carries.
"You have a choice there, you can try to pin them in down there again and play field position," said Ferentz. "We figured we'd take a shot. If you make it, it's the right decision, if you don't it's the wrong decision. We felt like it was the look we were looking for, and we didn't convert it."
Sophomore Jordan Canzeri gained 34 yards on seven attempts. Senior C.J. Fiedorowicz had a team-high four catches for 46 yards.
The defense was once again led by the three senior linebackers. Anthony Hitchens totaled a team-high 10 tackles in his final game, while James Morris had eight tackles and two sacks and Christian Kirksey added seven tackles and a sack.
Morris finished with a team-high eight sacks this year and became just the sixth Hawkeye ever to amass at least 400 tackles in his career.
Looking ahead to 2014
This unit definitely struggled to move the ball at times in 2013 and didn’t really show much of a pulse until the second half against LSU.
Greg Davis got a pass in his first year and probably could be given another freebie this year with an inexperienced QB. However, 2014 has got to be a year that the offense takes the next step.
The Hawkeyes return both Rudock and Beathard at quarterback and all three of their top rushers – Weisman, Canzeri and Damon Bullock – as well as LaShun Daniels at running back. The wide receivers have a lot of work to do but bringing back Martin-Manley, Damond Powell, Jacob Hillyer, Tevaun Smith and Matt VandeBerg will help. Maurice Fleming and 6-foot-4 freshman Derrick Willes could also provide a big lift to the offense.
The offensive line should be fine. Brandon Scherff, the Big Ten’s best lineman, Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh also return as starters, but Andrew Donnal has starting experience and should shift into the other guard spot with ease. That leaves just one spot (right tackle) to fill and that likely will go to Ryan Ward or Eric Simmons.
Despite losing C.J. Fiedorowicz, the tight end position should be in good hands with the Jake Duzey, Ray Hamilton, Henry Kreiger-Coble and George Kittle all returning after contributing in 2013.
The three linebackers and two defensive backs are gone but with a stout defensive line returning, the Hawkeyes should be able to continue its strong play.
Morris, Hitchens and Kirksey will likely be replaced by Quinton Alston, Travis Perry and Reggie Spearman but Cole Fisher will get some snaps, too.
The secondary will still have Lowdermilk and freshman Desmond King. B.J. Lowery’s replacement at corner could be Jordan Lomax or Ruben Lile, and the favorite to take over for Tanner Miller is Nico Law. Maurice Fleming is listed as a wideout on the Iowa roster, but he has the ability to play in the secondary as well.
The strength of the defense – and the most experienced – is the defensive line. Returners include Louis Trinca-Passat, Nate Meier, Drew Ott, Carl Davis, Mike Hardy and Darian Cooper but Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie should emerge as playmakers as well.
It is much lighter than it was in 2013 when the Hawkeyes traveled to Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa State and Minnesota and also faced Michigan State and Michigan at home.
The toughest games on the slate for 2014 are at home and the Hawkeyes do not play Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State.
The home slate includes Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Ball State in the non-conference as well as Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska in league play. The road games come against Purdue, Pittsburgh, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois.
On paper, Iowa looks to have at the very least nine wins locked up. If they can beat Minnesota on the road or Wisconsin or Nebraska at home, the Hawkeyes would be in double digits again.
It’s been a long time since Iowa has been in the Rose Bowl? Could Iowa be the 2014 version of 2013 Michigan State? The Spartans were not close to a BCS bowl in 2012 but emerged as the Big Ten’s best team this year.
There is no reason to believe – with so many starters back and a lighter schedule on the mend – that the Hawkeyes couldn’t climb to the top of the league next season.