TAMPA, Fla. – If you can’t convert third-and-inches, your options really start to dwindle.
That was the biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s Outback Bowl, as 14th-ranked Louisiana State bullied its way to a 21-14 win over Iowa.
Remember all the talk about LSU’s freshman quarterback?
Well, Anthony Jennings became a footnote when the Tigers’ Jeremy Hill ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns.
“How many did he have?” Hawkeye defensive tackle Carl Davis asked. “I don’t know of any back who ran for that much this year.”
Hill and a mammoth offensive line kept Jennings insulated, for the most part, while Iowa’s quarterbacks never found a comfort zone.
Jake Rudock went 9-of-22 passing for 102 yards (an average of 4.6 yards per attempt), before re-aggravating a left knee sprain late in the third quarter.
“I got the ball out and there was a guy coming in my face,” Rudock said. “I guess it rotated weird underneath me.”
C.J. Beathard replaced Rudock and went 4-of-7 for for 55 yards and a touchdown.
He also threw a costly interception on fourth-and-1 from the LSU 16-yard line with 5 minutes remaining.
“I knew I was going to get sacked if I didn’t get it out,” Beathard said. “So I just tried to give someone a shot with it.”
Tigers safety Craig Loston made the pick, and 3 minutes later Hill rumbled 37 yards for a touchdown, giving LSU a 21-7 lead.
Jennings never threw a pass during the clinching drive. He handed off six times.
“That’s who they are,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They’re not a finesse team at all.”
And neither is Iowa, supposedly.
But whenever the Hawkeyes tried to punch back, they were the ones who got flattened.
Twice, on separate possessions, the offense failed to convert on third-and-1. On a third-and-2, running back Mark Weisman was tackled for a 1-yard loss.
“It is frustrating,” Beathard said. “You want to make those high percentage plays.”
Even when Iowa succeeded, things stalled.
It appeared Beathard ran a sneak for a first down at the 42-yard line, but officials ruled LSU did not have time to get set.
“I think there was confusion on that,” Ferentz said. “Typically, if you don’t sub, they don’t hold the play up.
“They must have thought we subbed, I guess, because they allowed them to do whatever they did.”
Ferentz responded with a little trickery.
A fake punt on fourth-and-3 failed. And receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley put too much air under a pass to Damon Bullock.
What really hurt, though, was the Hawkeyes couldn’t match LSU’s brutish approach.
“They were the most physical team on the field,” left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “They came out and played better than we did, and that’s something we’ve got to work on.”
It doesn’t take much to spark offseason speculation.
Rudock expects to be healthy when spring drills roll around.
Is the sophomore from Weston, Fla., equally confident in his status as the No. 1 quarterback?
“You have to show what you can do every single year,” Rudock said. “You can never be satisfied and that was something instilled in me very young. … Just keep working and working.
“Don’t take anything for granted.”
And how does Beathard, a freshman, view his position?
“Obviously, I’m going to keep working to get better,” he said. “Because next season starts when we get back in Iowa City.”
It would be an upset if Beathard beat out Rudock, but neither one of them had much of a chance Wednesday.
Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
Jake Rudock, C.J. Beathard after Wednesday’s game:
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football