Saturday, December 28, 2013

2014 Outback Bowl: Can Iowa knock off LSU for the second time in series history?

Tampa, FL -- The Iowa Hawkeyes (8-4) and the LSU Tigers (8-4) have a little history. The brief history was the 30-25 Iowa win on the final play of the game in the 2005 Capital One Bowl down the road in Orlando.
The Hawkeyes enjoyed
off time at Busch Gardens
Tampa Bay.

On January 1, 2014, the two programs will play one more time, this time in Tampa, in the 2014 Outback Bowl, with a Noon kickoff on ESPN (HD).

The University of Iowa resumed workouts, with practice on Saturday, after an off day on Friday, where the team enjoyed the sites at Busch Gardens. The Hawkeyes are practicing at Tampa Jesuit High School in preparation for the game with LSU in the Outback Bowl.

Iowa second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis said after practice that the Tigers' defense mirrors Iowa's defense in some ways.

"They're a four-down team that plays aggressive," said Davis. "They're big man-to-man on normal down-and-distance, and play a lot of two safeties on third-and-long. It'll be a challenge."

Iowa OC Greg Davis
at practice during
the Hawkeyes bowl
preparation at Tampa
Jesuit High School.
Davis added that because of the pressure LSU's defensive front, the Hawkeyes will need to do a good job mixing things up offensively.

"They're ends can really rush and their inside guys are big and push the pocket well," said Davis. "We'll have to employ different personnel groupings -- find ways to run the ball and create some play action passes."

Iowa sophomore QB
Jake Rudock ahead of
his first start. He
started all 12 games
for Iowa in 2013.
Sophomore Jake Rudock is the Hawkeye signal caller who has had success making checks at the line of scrimmage all season based on the defensive look. Rudock enters the bowl game completing 60-percent of his passes (195-of-324) for 2,281 yards and 18 touchdowns. Davis has had confidence in his first-year starting quarterback from day one.

"We started the year knowing he was smart," said Davis. "Sometimes book smarts and football smarts don't always coincide, but in his case it does. We started the season with some easier thing, and as the season progressed, he has handled more and more. He works at it -- watching a lot of film on his own."

The Tiger defense ranks 20th in the country in total defense, allowing 349.7 yards per contest. Preparing for a team as skilled as LSU, Davis said the Hawkeyes need to be two-dimensional in order to have success.

"We'll have to be productive running and catching, and running after the catch," said Davis. "Hopefully, we've taken steps in that direction."

Iowa junior Mark
Weisman is 63 yards
shy of a 1,000 yard
season at RB.
Leading the Hawkeye ground attack this season has been Mark Weisman. The junior running back enters the bowl game 63 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, something that has been accomplished 17 other times in Iowa history. Davis continues to praise the former walk-on's work ethic.

"Mark is someone you have to like," Davis said. "He comes to work every day and works hard. Mark has a terrific approach to the game.

LSU has two very good
wide receivers, but Iowa
sophomore Tevaun Smith
is becoming Iowa's B1G
WR target in 2013.
"I think we've been a little smarter with him too, letting Damon [Bullock] and [Jordan] Canzeri get in there because his style is not going to change. When he carries it in the 25-30 range, he's going to take some collisions -- he's going to dish out some collisions, too. We have tried to be smarter with him, not only during games but also during the week."

In the air attack, Davis has been pleased with what sophomore Tevaun Smith has done recently.

"The play against Michigan (55-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter) did a lot for his confidence," said Davis. "Tevaun has practiced with more confidence since that game. This will be another big challenge because he'll be one-on-one a lot during the game."

Davis is a big proponent of explosive plays on offense. A 12 yard run or 16 yard pass play or more is usually the definition Davis uses in explaining explosive plays. Explosive plays, whether it be in special teams, on defense or from the offense, will be important for either Iowa or LSU in the Outback Bowl.

LSU arrived in Tampa, after Iowa and is preparing for the 2005
rematch, as well. Though, after nine years, very few were a part
of that game, other than some of the Iowa coaches.
LSU has also arrived in Tampa. The Tigers are practicing at the University of Tampa in preparation for their game with Iowa in the Outback Bowl.

The weather here is great,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I would hope that our LSU fans show up and cheer on the Tigers. I can tell you that there’s plenty of sunshine, the stadium is as nice a venue as you’ll find during bowl season and Tampa is a great destination city. This is going to be a great game and I hope there’s a lot of purple and gold in the seats.”

Both Iowa and LSU lost in their last bowl games, respectively. Each team's last bowl win came during the 2010 season. Iowa beat Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl, while LSU beat Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. 

So, one of these teams will see a streak come to an end in the 2014 Outback Bowl

Last year, LSU gave up 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to lose to Clemson 25-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta. LSU is 21-22-1 in bowl games and has lost back to back bowl games, including the BCS title game, during the 2011 season.

The last postseason football appearance for Iowa, who are 14-11-1 in bowl games (4-2 vs. SEC), ended in defeat, but that night -- Dec. 30, 2011 -- had a silver lining. It marked the actual beginning of the career of senior Brett Van Sloten, who will make his 25th consecutive start at right tackle Wednesday in the Outback Bowl.

Iowa senior RT Brett
Van Sloten is
preparing to make his
25th start at Iowa
in the Outback Bowl.
Van Sloten was thrown into the fire two seasons ago against No. 14 Oklahoma in the Insight Bowl when senior starter Markus Zusevics became ill. The Hawkeyes managed to outgain Oklahoma by 17 yards, but lost the game, 31-14.

"It was a lot of fun to get that first playing action, but unfortunately we fell a little short," Van Sloten said Saturday after practice at Jesuit High School. "We're hoping to get that taste out of our mouth in terms of bowl wins."

The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Van Sloten looked up to the upperclassmen on the 2011 team -- James FerentzAdam GettisRiley Reiff, and Matt Tobin -- when he was pressed into emergency action. Now it is Van Sloten who is leading younger Hawkeyes like Austin BlytheEric Simmons, and Ryan Ward.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz underscores the importance that to have a good team, seniors need to play their best. Van Sloten comprehends the message.

"That starts with guys I have looked up to, whether it has been Riley ReiffMarkus Zusevics,James Ferentz -- those guys are who I wanted to be like in terms of football," Van Sloten said. "They took care of business, they took care of their jobs, and led well. That is what I was looking to do and I hope I leave my footprint like they left their footprint. Thankfully we have had underclassmen buy into our junior and senior leadership.
We're fortunate they bought into what the leaders wanted to get done this year. We need to stay collected for one more week and get the job done Jan. 1."

When the Hawkeyes play the #16 BCS ranked Tigers in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 in Raymond James Stadium. Van Sloten is more seasoned than he was in 2011, but this will be the first bowl start for the native of Decorah, Iowa, who is a permanent offensive team captain and a second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection by coaches.

"Brett Van Sloten embodies all things that are good about football and about college athletics," Ferentz said. "He wouldn't be the star at the combine. He won't be the guy who is off the charts, but he is a football player, a team guy, and an unbelievable leader. Players follow him and that's a guy you want them to follow. His agenda is pure and it's everything we want it to be. He is a hard-working, intelligent, tough-minded guy."
Like most games, the clash against LSU has potential to be decided in the trenches, where the Hawkeyes -- with Van Sloten's help -- have averaged 188.5 yards per game on the ground. The leading rusher for the Hawkeyes is junior Mark Weisman, who has gained 937 yards with seven touchdowns.

"He is one of those guys who is never going to let you down," Weisman said of Van Sloten. "He is a great teammate and leader for us and it has been a pleasure to be his teammate. I'm happy to have one more game with him."

Van Sloten was nervous in the 2011 Insight Bowl, and he still remembers the first play he was involved in -- "17 to the left" -- where he executed a backside block that allowed him to ease into the game.

"(Offensive line) coach (Reese) Morgan told me to calm down, I was shaking a little bit," Van Sloten said.
While the first few plays on that noteworthy Insight Bowl night are still moving slow motion in Van Sloten's mind, the last 24 games have flown past.

"We're looking forward to one more game as Iowa Hawkeyes, I'm thankful for the opportunity to play here," Van Sloten said. "It has been a great ride and Conor Boffeli, Nolan (MacMillan) and I on the offensive line are looking to cap it off and go out on a high note."

ESPN analyst Jon Gruden was doing homework on the University of Iowa football team Thursday at Jesuit High School. Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters will be the announcers for ESPN during the 2014 Outback Bowl.

And Gruden is a big fan of Ferentz.

Iowa junior LT
Brandon Scherff
will return in 2014
where Iowa
will play in all
four trophy games.
"I like the style coach Ferentz plays at Iowa, I always have," Gruden said. "They're tough, high-effort teams. They don't beat themselves. You can't find the fundamentals and techniques in an offensive line anywhere else in the country. You're looking at a team that is well-coached; look at the amount of reps they get in one practice. It's impressive."

As for the 2014 Outback Bowl, Gruden predicts an entertaining game between two traditional style teams that are under center a lot.

"Very good, physical teams," he said. "Play action pass, running game, staying ahead in the chains is very important to Iowa."

Gruden says he is still coming up with possible Hawkeye "Gruden Grinder" candidates -- his award for a game's toughest performer.

"I do like (junior offensive left tackle Brandon) Scherff, I like the way he finishes," Gruden said. "It seems he has the perfect temperament in a left tackle."

LSU coach Les Miles is in his ninth season leading the Tigers.
The Tigers finished 5-3 in the SEC West, with a 31-27 win
at Arkansas
to close the regular season 9-3 overall.
LSU is making its school-record 14th consecutive bowl trip, but it’s playing in the Outback Bowl for just the second time and the first since the 1988 season. The Tigers have never beat Iowa, nor won in Tampa, losing the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl to Syracuse.

LSU will be starting a true freshman in his first start of his career, after senior Zach Mettenberger was knocked out of the Arkansas game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury. Mettenberger will miss the Outback Bowl and the true freshman Anthony Jennings will take over as LSU’s starting quarterback.

“Anthony (Jennings) had a good practice,” Miles said. “One thing about it is he is getting more reps, and he is going to come of age very quickly.”

LSU true freshman Anthony Jennings will make first start
in 2014 Outback Bowl in Raymond James Stadium vs. Iowa.
“The good news is that it’s the post season, and we have had him in place as the second team quarterback all season so he’s gotten practice reps all year. These 12 bowl practices will have the focus on him and we expect him to respond and play well.”

Jennings came of age quickly against Arkansas as he directed the Tigers on a game-winning 99-yard scoring drive to beat the Razorbacks 31-27 in the season-finale. Jennings connected with redshirt freshman Travin Dural on a 49-yard TD pass with just over a minute left to complete the comeback win.

Against Iowa, the Tigers will face a Hawkeye team that has won three straight and goes into the game with a 5-3 Big Ten record and 8-4 overall. Three of Iowa’s losses have come to teams with just one loss as they fell to Northern Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State. Iowa’s other loss came to Wisconsin.
Final play of 2005
Capital One Bowl:
Iowa 30, LSU 25.

Miles said that the Tigers should have little trouble getting motivated to play the Big Ten opponent. Miles was named the LSU head coach, after the 2005 Capital One Bowl where the Hawkeyes posted a 30-25 last-second victory in the only other game between LSU and Iowa.

“If they don’t get fired up about playing in a quality bowl game against an opponent like Iowa, there is something wrong with them,” Miles said “They aren’t getting that from me. They have a big running back that runs hard. They have an offensive line that is very disciplined and will block you. We will have to fight. They are a good football team. Honestly, this is exactly what we need- to end the season with a challenge."

Big Ten Preview
of 2014 Outback Bowl
“I promise you these Tigers are going to have to fight for victory, and it is going to be a wonderful competitive contest. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to go. I think it is a great place to play.”

LSU, like in the 2005 Capital One Bowl game, is favored to win over Iowa by a touchdown in the 2014 Outback Bowl.

It will not be an easy game for the Iowa Hawkeyes. A win would be defined as another upset victory for the Hawkeyes during a bowl game under coach Ferentz. Iowa is 6-4 (3-1 vs. SEC) in bowl games under coach Ferentz, who is in his 15th season.

What's on the line for each team:
Iowa will likely finish in the Top 25 with a nine win season, if they are successful in the Outback, with a win. This would be impressive coming off an awful 4-8 season in 2012. LSU is looking for a 10 win season heading into the off season, where the Tigers will open the 2014 season, against another Big Ten opponent (Wisconsin) in Houston, Texas.

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