ESPN’s coverage of Wednesday’s Outback Bowl was a parade of stereotypes about the program under coach Kirk Ferentz.
For those connected to the program, that’s mostly a positive thing.
As LSU’s polished off its 21-14 win against Iowa at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., familiar themes emerged from play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Jon Gruden.
Smart. Hard workers. Resilient. Underappreciated.
Those can sometimes be diplomatic, back-handed ways of saying less talented — but the game delivered on the chatter in front of a national audience.
When running back Jeremy Hill busted loose for a 37-yard touchdown run with 2:20 to play, it seemed to be a game-decider. Iowa’s Jordon Cotton returned the kickoff 96 yards, though, to set up a scoring pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley.
“There’s no quit in these Hawkeyes,” Gruden said.
The game played out, however, much like the season for Iowa, whose eight wins doubled its total from a season ago. A solid defense held the No. 14 Tigers in check for the bulk of the game after an easy opening drive for a touchdown.
Offensive inconsistency, though, applied too much pressure to a group whose gas tank finally drained.
Hill ran for 87 of his 216 yards on the final scoring drive. ESPN’s Desmond Howard predicted the impact of Hill in a preview of the game, moments before kickoff.
“(Iowa has) to get a lot of hats to the ball when Jeremy Hill is carrying the ball, because he’s a load,” he said.
Howard colleague Kirk Herbstreit predicted that LSU would lack focus after failing to reach a BCS game — and said Tiger juniors also were distracted by decisions about whether to declare for the NFL draft. Herbstreit said the response from LSU players about the Outback bid and Iowa felt like, “Huh? Who? Bad sign.”
He continued: “They don’t respect Iowa. That’s why Iowa beats them.”
Gruden provided a groaner moment or two during the telecast.
One came after a swarm of Hawkeyes converged on an LSU ballcarrier in the first quarter: “That’s what you’re used to seeing in Des Moines!” True, if you have a television set in Iowa’s capital city. To see it in person, you’d need to be in Iowa City … where the team plays.
The pair of announcers undoubtedly shared thoughts of millions of viewers when Iowa defensive back John Lowdermilk intercepted an LSU pass, but intentionally flipped the ball away as he reached the end zone. The problem: He was a half-yard short.
Cameras zoomed across the sidelines to Lowdermilk, who looked like he’d eaten a pound of shoe leather. “Lowdermilk is sitting over there begging his offense to bail him out after the blooper,” Tirico said. The offense did, but the success proved too rare.
ESPN’s Chris Fowler said pregame that “Iowa’s red-zone offense has just been woeful.” Seat-mate Lee Corso predicted that the speed of the only team to beat national title game qualifier Auburn would mean “LSU out-runs them.”
The television stars for Iowa played on the defensive side of the ball, where national viewers saw and heard that freshman defensive back Desmond King has all-America level talent. Announcers offered loads of microphone praise, too, for Hawkeye senior linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens.
In the end, it felt as if some national TV confidence in Iowa had returned, despite the loss.
Tirico called last season’s four-win campaign a “hiccup” while Gruden offered more approval based on 11 bowl trips in Ferentz’s 15 seasons.
“I think he’s responsible for one of the biggest turnarounds in college football,” Gruden said.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football