Outback Bowl Preview and Prediction: Iowa vs. LSU

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LSU, Iowa bring smash-mouth football to Outback Bowl

LSU, Iowa bring smash-mouth football to Outback Bowl

Throw another shrimp on the barbie and pour another ice-cold big bloke when Iowa (8–4, 5–3 Big Ten) and LSU (9–3, 5–3 SEC) kick off in this year’s Outback Bowl in Tampa. Oh, and don’t forget to strap on your helmet — extra tight. This time last year, helmets were famously flying at the Outback Bowl, when South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney destroyed Michigan’s Vincent Smith with the hit heard ‘round the world and undoubtedly the best highlight of the 2012 bowl season.

The Hawkeyes are making their fourth appearance in the Outback Bowl, carrying a 2–1 mark in the game — with a 37–17 win over Florida in 2004, 31–10 victory over South Carolina in 2009 and a 31–24 loss to Florida in 2006. The Tigers lost their only appearance in what was then known as the Hall of Fame Bowl, losing 23–10 to Syracuse in 1989.

This is only the second meeting between Iowa and LSU. And if the first contest is any indication, this should be a good one. At the 2005 Capital One Bowl, the Hawkeyes escaped with a thrilling 30–25 come-from-behind win over the Tigers on a 56-yard TD pass from Drew Tate to Warren Holloway as time expired.

Iowa’s season got off to a rocky start with a 30–27 season-opening loss to Northern Illinois. But the Hawkeyes righted the ship and ended the season on a high note with back-to-back wins against Michigan (24–21) and at Nebraska (38–17). LSU may not have known it at the time, but its 35–21 win over Auburn — the “other” Tigers’ only loss of the season — was the highlight of the year. Heartbreaking losses at Georgia (44–41) and at Ole Miss (27–24), along with a beating at Alabama (38–17), made this a disappointing season in Baton Rouge, where there were legitimate BCS expectations.

Iowa vs. LSU

Kickoff: Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -7.5

Three Things to Watch

Iowa’s O-line vs. LSU’s D-line
Historically, this would be a strength vs. strength matchup of Hawkeyes and Tigers. When you think Iowa football, you think of big nasties like Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga dominating the trenches and controlling the line of scrimmage along the offensive line. When you think LSU football, fire-breathing run-stuffers and pass-rushers like Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson.

This season the names have changed but the team identities remain the same. Iowa once again has a pair of All-Big Ten O-tackles in Brandon Scherff (6’5”, 315) and Brett Van Sloten (6’7”, 300) as well as a strong interior with guards Andrew Donnal (6’7”, 305) and Conor Boffeli (6’5”, 295), and center Austin Blythe (6’3”, 300). On the other side of the football, LSU’s D-tackle duo of Anthony Johnson (6’3”, 294) and Ego Ferguson (6’3”, 308) is arguably the best in the nation.

Iowa’s O-line will need to move Johnson and Ferguson out of the way if fullback Mark Weisman hopes to have any success against the Bayou Bengals. Although he finished the regular season with 938 yards and seven TDs, Weisman struggled against several of the elite run defenses he faced this season — with seven carries for nine yards (1.3 ypc) in a 26–14 loss to Michigan State and nine carries for 15 yards (1.7 ypc) in a 28–9 loss to Wisconsin.

Hawkeyes’ Run Defense
LSU trots into Tampa with a stable of running backs, the nation’s 33rd-ranked rushing offense (200.8 ypg) and the 11th-most rushing TDs in the country (34). But Jeremy Hill (1,185 yards, 14 TDs), Terrence Magee (614 yards, 8 TDs), Alfred Blue (317 yards, TD) and Kenny Hilliard (307 yards, 7 TDs) could have some trouble against Iowa’s stout defensive front. The Hawkeyes’s run defense ranks 17th in the nation, allowing 120.8 yards per game on 3.49 yards per carry. Most impressive, Iowa has allowed just five TDs on the ground this season, tied with BCS national championship favorite Florida State for first in the country.

LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry
Iowa’s pass defense might be even better than its run defense. The Hawkeyes rank 11th in the country in yards allowed (182.4 ypg). But Iowa was vulnerable to the scoring strike through the air, allowing 20 passing TDs this season — the most of any team ranked in the top 20 pass defenses. LSU’s dynamic receiving duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry combined to catch 132 passes for 2,289 yards (17.3 ypc) and 18 TDs. Beckham and Landry fill different roles in the passing game. Beckham provides a more explosive threat, with 57 catches for 1,117 yards (19.6 ypc) and eight TDs, while also averaging 26.9 yards per kick return and 10.1 yards per punt return. Landry is as reliable as they come, with 75 grabs for 1,172 yards (15.6 ypc) and 10 trips to the end zone.

Key Player: Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU
The elephant in the room is Jennings, the freshman quarterback replacing injured starter Zach Mettenberger — who passed for 3,082 yards, 22 TDs and eight INTs before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. Coming out of high school in Marietta, Ga., Jennings was rated as a four-star prospect and the sixth-best dual-threat quarterback in the country by recruiting service Rivals.com. The 6’2”, 205-pounder has completed 6-of-10 pass attempts for 99 yards, one TD and zero INTs, while rushing for 49 yards and one TD in limited action this season.

After Mettenberger’s injury, Jennings completed 4-of-7 passes for 76 yards and one TD while scrambling three times for 26 yards (8.7 ypc) to hold on for a 31–27 victory over Arkansas. He’s got time to prepare, a running game to lean on and a pair of NFL wideouts at his disposal. But this Iowa defense will be unlike any Jennings has seen in his brief college career.

Final Analysis
Kirk Ferentz is 6–4 in bowl games at Iowa, including a 2–1 mark in the Outback Bowl and a 1–0 record head-to-head with LSU. Ferentz is making a return to bowl season after sitting last year out on the hot seat following a 4–8 campaign in 2012. On the other side, Les Miles is 5–3 in bowls at LSU, including the 2007 BCS National Championship. But the Mad Hatter is riding a two-game bowl losing streak after being embarrassed by Alabama in the 2011 BCS national title game and collapsing to lose a late lead against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season. Miles is one win away from his seventh 10-win season at LSU, which would also be his fourth straight 10-win year. A ninth win for Ferentz would be his best since the 11-win Orange Bowl squad of 2009.

Make no mistake, this will be an old-fashioned heavyweight fight won in the trenches and the turnover column of the stat sheet. A few rookie mistakes from Jennings could put LSU in jeopardy against a disciplined Iowa squad. But barring self-inflicted freshman errors, the Tigers’ talent will likely be too much for the Hawkeyes.

Prediction: LSU 24, Iowa 16

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