Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, January 2, 2017
Everyone felt this would be a low-scoring defensive slugfest. And, that turned out to be partly true.
Both schools came in allowing just 17.9 points with offenses that struggled for consistency. The Hawkeyes were No. 12 in the Big Ten in total offense (333.3 ypg) with the No. 13 passing attack (161.3 ypg). The Gators came in 107th in scoring offense led by QB Austin Appleby, a grad transfer from Purdue who had faced Iowa in the past.
Iowa took a 3-0 lead ? and it was all downhill from there. Florida jumped in front 10-7 at halftime despite throwing interceptions on its first two possessions. Iowa could only turn those two picks into a field goal. And things never got better for the Hawkeyes in the second half, as Iowa missed a short field goal and C.J. Beathard tossed a pick six to allow the Gators to coast to a 30-3 win.
So, the dreary bowl run continues for Iowa, which has now lost five in a row. The last three bowl losses have been bad, falling 45-28 to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer, 45-16 to Stanford in the Rose and now this 30-3 beating.
BEST OF THE OUTBACK BOWL
Best play: Late in the first half with the game tied, 3-3, Florida QB Austin Appleby dumped off what appeared to be an innocuous screen pass to RB Mark Thompson. But sloppy tackling by Iowa and some nifty moves by Thompson resulted in an 85-yard TD catch to give the Gators a 10-7 lead they wouldn?t relinquish.
Best player: How about Gator QB Austin Appleby?! The Purdue transfer tormented a Big Ten foe by hitting 14-of-25 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, overcoming a slow start to lead UF to victory.
Best moment: In the first half, Iowa RB Akrum Wadley went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. Backfield mate LeShun Daniels came into the game with over 1,000 yards rushing. So, that gave the Hawkeyes two 1,000-yard rushers in a season for the first time in school annals. Wadley finished with a game-high 115 yards rushing, the lone bright spot on this sun-splashed day in Tampa for Iowa.
Best stat: 109, yards rushing allowed by Iowa, which had 171 on the ground. Usually when you win the rushing battle, you win the game. But three turnovers hurt the Hawkeyes.
Offense: D. It was about as you would have expected. Iowa came in No. 12 in the Big Ten in total offense (333.3 ypg) and No. 13 in passing (161.3 ypg). The attack finished with 226 yards (55 passing) and got stuffed on a big fourth-down try in Florida territory in the first half. It wasn?t the best day for QB C.J. Beathard, who appeared to hurt his right hamstring in the first half and got beat up throughout the day. It was pure misery. Beathard hit 7-of-23 passes for 55 yards with three interceptions. It wasn?t the way he wanted to end a storied career in Iowa City.
Defense: B. This group was pretty stout. But the strong effort was largely undone by offensive struggles that included a pick six and missed field goal, among other woes. Florida finished with 331 yards and the Iowa defense got two turnovers. That?s usually good enough to get a win.
Special teams: D. With Iowa trailing 10-7 in the third quarter, Keith Duncan missed a 30-yard field goal. It was a killer miss after the offense had enjoyed a sustained drive that was impressive. Duncan entered the game having hit 8-of-9 field-goal attempts, including the game-winning 33-yarder as time expired to beat Michigan in November. Florida took over and proceeded to execute a TD drive to take a 17-3 lead with 48 seconds to go in the third quarter.
At one point this season, Iowa was 5-4 coming off a 2015 season of glory in which the Hawkeyes opened 12-0, won the Big Ten and played in the Rose Bowl. Iowa finished strong in 2016, winning its last three regular-season game, including a huge 14-13 win vs. No. 3 Michigan, the first loss of the season for the Wolverines. And the Hawkeyes finished with a 40-10 demolition of No. 16 Nebraska. But the winning streak came to an abrupt end in Tampa in this loss to a Florida team that won the SEC East but lost to Alabama in the league championship game.
A look toward 2017: This is always a solid program that will be in contention in the Big Ten West, no matter who leaves the program. Staff continuity is a big reason for that. Still, there will be some big holes to fill with tight end George Kittle, tackle Cole Croston, wideout Riley McCarron, quarterback C.J. Beathard and running back LeShun Daniels gone. Beathard will leave campus as an all-time great and will be tough to replace. The defense will miss the tackle tandem of Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie. Johnson is a stud who will be a high NFL pick. And the secondary must replace star corner Desmond King, the 2015 Thorpe Award winner, and safety Anthony Gair. The good news? RB Akrum Wadley will be back along with four offensive linemen and WR Matt VandeBerg. The defense will return its LB corps, headed by Josey Jewell.