TAMPA, Fla. — Perhaps we were reading the situation with a blur of sentimentality. Iowa does the “Swarm” thing at the end of every game. Senior linebacker James Morris often gathers it together.
After the Hawkeyes’ 21-14 loss to No. 14 Louisiana State in Wednesday’s Outback Bowl, Morris took the high ground and held everyone up to wait for the stragglers. There were stragglers. The game, played before an announced crowd of 51,296 at Raymond James Stadium, ended with Iowa throwing the ball around the field, doing the deadman’s desperation lateral.
Iowa (8-5) was called for a penalty while trying to substitute, so the play already was dead. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz worked referee Greg Burks, but Iowa’s fate was sealed. LSU (10-3) danced on the Outback logo, and Iowa saddled up the Swarm.
“Because it was our last game as the 2013-2014 Hawkeyes, I just wanted to make sure we had everybody in the Swarm, because sometimes there are stragglers,” said Morris, who became just the sixth player in Iowa history to record 400 career tackles. “I was in position where I could see guys coming in.
“It wasn’t a ‘Braveheart’ speech or anything like that.”
This wasn’t some big, dramatic moment. The Hawkeyes weren’t that kind of team this season. This was a team that tried to do everything it could right. Coming off 4-8, that’s all it could do. That was its immediate goal and something so ingrained that there it was after a numbing defeat, trying to get the Swarm together.
Coach Kirk Ferentz’s voice cracked a few times during the postgame. Through a coach’s eye, this probably was a team that was easy to love.
“To be around this football team . . . it’s been a really great group of guys to work with,” Ferentz said. “The guys have played hard, competed hard with every step.”
That said, whatever it was that guided Iowa to a 5-3 record in the Big Ten and a total turnaround from 4-8, LSU smothered.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill won the game’s MVP honors with 216 yards and two TDs on 28 carries. The 6-2, 235-pounder burst through the right side of Iowa’s defense for 42 yards on the game’s first play. LSU opened the game with 12 straight rushing plays and took a 7-0 lead on quarterback Anthony Jennings’ 2-yard sneak.
Hill had back-to-back runs of 28 and 20 before breaking tackles on a 38-yard TD run to give LSU a 21-7 lead with 2:02 left in the game.
“We probably would’ve gone with 13 or 14 straight running plays, but I think we scored at 12,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “I think we realized there were some advantages right there and we didn’t want to go away from them.”
Jennings replaced Zach Mettenberger after Mettenberger suffered a torn ACL in the Tigers’ season finale. The passing game was a struggle for him. He was off-target on a few open receivers and finished 7 of 19 for 82 yards.
Hill and LSU’s O-line was enough. Iowa went into the Outback having allowed just three 100-yard rushers all season. Hill’s 216 is the first 200-yard rushing performance allowed by Iowa’s defense since Michigan State’s Tico Duckett went for 248 in 2000.
There was one play where Hill got under defensive tackle Carl Davis’ pads and pushed him back a few yards. That was LSU’s running back getting push on a 315-pound defensive tackle.
“I didn’t feel like we were getting knocked off the ball,” Davis said. “I didn’t feel like we were getting to the seams we needed to. I felt like we played run fits, we just had to get off blocks better.”
The Tigers pinned Iowa’s offense, as in a professional wrestling pin. It held the Hawkeyes to the mat — Iowa’s 233 yards total offense was a season low, yes, fewer yards than against Michigan State — for the three full seconds — it was the second fewest passing yards (157) — for the pin.
The Hawkeyes converted just one third down while falling behind 14-0 in the first half. Iowa’s two TD drives were three plays for 1 yards (a 2-yard run by Mark Weisman) and two plays for 4 yards (a 4-yard TD pass from C.J. Beathard to wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley).
LSU dominated the line of scrimmage. Iowa couldn’t buck the Tigers off (you know, like in professional wrestling).
“They played us a little bit differently than maybe we had seen,” Ferentz said. “We adjusted a little bit, but they’re a tough defensive ballclub. They’ve got a lot of good players and they played well.”
Quarterback Jake Rudock had the sprained left knee that he injured in the season finale at Nebraska flare up. Beathard replaced him in the fourth quarter.
There simply was no one scheme, spark or rhythm that Iowa’s offense could find to combat LSU. It took strong safety John Lowdermilk’s 71-yard interception return — Iowa retained possession even though he dropped the ball before crossing the goal line for an apparent TD — and Jordan Cotton’s 96-yard kick return to set up both Iowa’s TDs.
Iowa didn’t break. It was an acorn in the Tigers’ palm. LSU couldn’t break it.
Not even at the end. LSU won and celebrated. Iowa knew it and swarmed up. In the end, this team knew what it was. The seniors hoped it help steer it off the rocky shore that was 2012.
Iowa made the incremental improvement. It made it to Florida. It threw punches, but got pinned by a more talented team in the bowl game.
“Our record speaks for itself,” Morris said. “We’re 8-5. We’re not the best team in the history of Iowa football, but we’re better than 4-8. We’re 8-5 and every time we went out there, we tried to do our best.
“It didn’t always happen for us, but we played hard just tried to honor the fans, the coaches and each other.”
©2014 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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