TAMPA, FLA. –
Football is a game of put up or shut up.
The Florida Gators did neither Thursday.
Even after the Hawkeyes blew their doors off with a 13-point second quarter, the Gators keep right on trash talking. A 24-point Iowa lead in the third quarter, they still chirped unfazed. One Gator defender got up in receiver Ed Hinkel’s face and did a whole bunch of head bobbing. Hinkel calmly turned and pointed to the scoreboard.
The scoreboard said it all for the No.13 Hawkeyes.
“I just started laughing and told him to look up at the scoreboard,” Hinkel said. “I guess that’s just how Florida is.”
Running back Fred Russell earned MVP with 150 yards and a touchdown, and quarterback Nathan Chandler played his best game in his last game during Iowa’s 37-17 Outback Bowl victory over No.17 Florida.
The Hawkeyes (10-3) drained the Gators (8-5), physically and mentally and sent their fans packing after Russell’s 34-yard TD run put them up 34-17 with 4:37 left in the third quarter. The Florida section of the sellout crowd of 65,372 at Raymond James Stadium bailed, leaving a bunch of maroon seats.
“They talked all the way to the end,” center Eric Rothwell said. “That’s pretty much all they did. It’s a lot easier when you just have to point at the scoreboard. You don’t have to think of anything
to say back. You just point.”
The Hawkeyes can point alot of ways.
They won their first New Year’s Day bowl game since the 1959 Rose Bowl.
With last year’s 11-2 run, they have double-digit victories in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. When the rankings come out Monday, they should be in the top 10, their first back-to-back top 10 finishes since 1956-59.
“I think this is one more step toward credibility,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, still damp from the double-barrel Gatorade ambush his players executed with about two minutes left. “We all feel good about each other right now. We’re a family and that’s kind of what it takes.”
Iowa beat the Gators in everything except hype.
The Hawkeyes held Florida to 57 yards rushing, an Outback record low. The Iowa coaches toyed with some junk defenses, but in the end, they went with the same old Norm Parker grip-and-grunt that’s become their trademark.
Florida quarterback Chris Leak, everybody’s favorite freshman, looked lost, completing 22 of 41 for 268 yards, two TDs and an interception. Defensive linemen Matt Roth, Howard Hodges and Tyler Luebke sacked Leak.
“Same ol’ same ol’,” said cornerback Jovon Johnson, who had an interception. “When we’re doing it hard, doing it right, we
don’t have to change our defense.”
Chandler, everybody’s favorite footwipe, played a flawless game. From his decision-making to his bootlegs to his arm, Chandler saved his best game for his last, completing 13 of 25 for 170 yards, a TD and no interceptions.
“THIS IS THE most fun I’ve had all season,” Chandler said. “This was how I wanted to go out.”
Right out of the tunnel, Florida cornerback Keiwan Ratliff bumped facemasks with Iowa receiver Mo Brown and laid down a riff of trash. The Hawkeyes never took the bait.
Instead, they played the game. A strategy so crazy in this SportsCenter, sound bite, talk-radio world, it worked to a T.
OK, the Gators had every right to talk trash for about three minutes. They held a 7-0 first-quarter lead on Leak’s 70-yard bomb to receiver Kelvin Kight with 7:18 left in the first quarter.
The Hawkeyes didn’t waver. On their next drive, they rode Russell’s 28-yard run and running back Jermelle Lewis’ 17-yarder to
set up Chandler’s 4-yard TD pass to Brown with 3:56 left. The second quarter was all Iowa. Kicker Nate Kaeding booted the first of his three field goals, a 47-yarder. Chandler scored on a 5-yard bootleg, and Kaeding added a 32-yarder for a 20-7 halftime lead.
Meanwhile, Florida had 1 yard in the second quarter.
“After they scored the long one, no one panicked,” said Iowa strong safety Bob Sanders, who was a major part of the coverage scheme that held tight end Ben Troupe to zero catches. “No one yelled, no one pointed fingers. We just got together and said enough.”
IOWA’S ROLL continued on the Gators’ first series of the second half.
Sophomore wideout Matt Melloy came close to blocking punts all day. He finally got one after the Gators’ fourth-straight three-and-out. Melloy broke in from the left side, blocked the kick and then hustled into the end zone to cover the ball for a score.
It was Iowa’s fifth blocked punt this season and third TD off a blocked punt. The 27-7 lead sapped the life out of the Gators.
You know it’s your day when a reserve former walk-on from Mt. Pleasant makes that play. You know it’s not your day when you set an Outback Bowl record with 10 punts.
“The other four losses, a play here and there, and we could’ve won,” Florida Coach Ron Zook said. “This one, we got beat.”They were beat, as in dead tired, going through the motions.
“They were done (in the second half), done,” Roth said. “They looked like they wanted to go home.”
Iowa’s offensive line beat them, sitting on the Gators all day and producing 238 yards rushing, converting 7 of 18 third downs and building a nine-minute advantage in time of possession (34:10 to 25:50).
Florida had 325 yards, but a lot of it came after Iowa took a 34-10 lead.
Florida’s special teams made mistake after mistake, leaving the Gators with average starting field position at their 19.
“Once one guy got going, the next guy followed and then it was a chain reaction, all over the team,” guard Pete McMahon said. “Everybody had a quiet confidence and just did their job.”
The Hawkeyes were the quiet ones. But they sure made their point.