Iowa takeaways: The no-slip bowl plan, key Gator injuries, Reiff impresses

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

TAMPA, Fla. – How badly does Josey Jewell want a bowl win?

A look at the Iowa middle linebacker’s cellphone says it all.

The wallpaper background is an image from last year’s Rose Bowl, a 45-16 whipping at the hands of Stanford.

“It’s a little bit of a negative type thing flowing in,” Jewell said, “just to help make me realize what happened last year, to understand where we were at and how to get better from it.”

Motivation for the 8-4 Hawkeyes seems to be no issue going into Monday’s Outback Bowl matchup with 8-4 Florida (noon, ABC).

Now, it’s up to the execution.

The answer sounds boring, but Butkus Award finalist Jewell and defensive coordinator Phil Parker echoed each other in Friday interviews about how to avoid first-half meltdowns that have been present in Iowa’s last two bowl appearances.

Iowa trailed at halftime in last year’s Rose Bowl, 35-0 – even worse than the prior year’s 35-7 halftime deficit to Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

Buzz words from the Hawkeye camp Thursday were focus, discipline and, a Jewell favorite, “doing your own job.”

The Hawkeye defense has allowed 7.7 points per game since Nov. 12. Florida’s offense ranks 115th in FBS.

“I think we have a good plan for them,” Parker said. “Now we have to go out and execute.”

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, left, was handful enough last year for the Hawkeyes but Iowa players also had trouble finding their footing a year ago in the 45-16 Rose Bowl loss. The Hawkeyes say they're prepared in the footwear department this time around.

And not slip …

A frustrating sight in the Hawkeyes’ past two bowl games: Watching Iowa defensive players consistently slipping on the grass fields, while Stanford and Tennessee didn’t seem to have the same issue.

Part of that was Iowa’s opponents had some stellar athletes; part of that was a lack of proper footwear.

Parker acknowledged that the slippage factor had been addressed for this game. Seven-stud football cleats are packed and ready to go for Raymond James Stadium’s grass surface.

“Our kids had to break them in, they had to use them (this week),” Parker said. “I think they’ve done a good job. I think we’ll have some rain on Monday. So everybody should have them on.”

The forecast, as of Friday, called for a 40 percent chance of afternoon rain.

Key Florida injuries

Parker commented Friday that, “We want to be the best defensive team on the field.”

Some injury news that Florida coach Jim McElwain revealed Friday might help the Hawkeyes’ chances.

McElwain told reporters that starting linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, as well as one of their top backups, would miss the Outback Bowl because of injuries.

Davis is a heart-and-soul, all-SEC linebacker who has struggled to recover from a high-ankle sprain. Anzalone’s absence is a bigger surprise. He has been one of the Gators’ top pass rushers before breaking his arm Nov. 5 against Arkansas and had been practicing in pads with Florida's first-team defense this week.

And McElwain also said freshman David Reese, who had played well in relief of Davis and Anzalone in November, would not play after injuring his wrist in the SEC Championship Game.

Their replacements are redshirt freshman Kylan Johnson (39 tackles, five starts), senior Daniel McMillan (22 tackles, three starts) and true freshman Vosean Joseph (seven tackles, zero starts).

Next Reiff In

Parker, in one of the 4-6 times a year that Iowa’s coordinators are turned loose with the media, was asked about some of Iowa's younger players Friday.

One name really got him talking.

“I tell you, Brady Reiff has really impressed me,” Parker said. “Really impressed me.”

The redshirt freshman and younger brother of former Iowa star offensive lineman Riley Reiff was recently moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, despite being undersized for that position.

Reiff is currently in the 6-foot-3, 250-pound ballpark, but Parker thought he could add another 10-15 pounds. A right-ankle injury slowed Reiff's progress, but he’s emerged during bowl preparation.

And while Parker wanted to shy away from comparisons, Iowa’s had undersized defensive tackles before. Think Mitch King, Matt Kroul, Karl Klug.

“He has some qualities that we really like. His toughness, the way he takes (on) blocks,” Parker said. "He can run, too. He’s strong and powerful. We’re excited about that.”

Said defensive end Parker Hesse: “One thing about (Reiff), he plays with great effort. He’s always finding his way to the ball. He had a great bowl prep.”

Defensive loose ends

Parker has seen big progress in bowl prep from true freshman Cedrick Lattimore. Parker thought he might be a defensive end, but when the Detroit product was already at 280 pounds on his 6-5 frame by two-a-day summer practices, it was an easy choice to move him inside. It seems like Lattimore and Reiff are in line to replace seniors Jaleel Johnson and Faith Ekakitie next season. “It’s unbelievable how much improvement” Lattimore and Reiff made this month, Parker said. …

Iowa enters Monday’s game with three healthy, non-redshirting cornerbacks in Desmond King, Joshua Jackson and Michael Ojemudia. If it needs a fourth? Parker said it'd be true freshman safety Amani Hooker. …

The progress of free safety Brandon Snyder has been noticeable. The redshirt sophomore wound up third on the team in tackles (80) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (2), fumbles forced (2) and fumble recoveries (2). “Over time, the game slows down for you a little bit,” Parker said. “I think that’s what’s happened to him.” …

Parker said the staff considered moving redshirting freshman linebacker Barrington Wade to safety, but thinks his future is at outside linebacker.