TAMPA, Fla. — A new year dawned with another empty bowl for the Iowa football team.
The Hawkeyes couldn’t take advantage of success early and wilted late as Florida made a series of big plays to claim a 30-3 victory Monday in the Outback Bowl before an announced crowd of 51,119 at Raymond James Stadium.
It was the fifth consecutive bowl-game loss for the Hawkeyes, who haven’t ended a season with a victory since 2010. They have been outscored 120-47 in their three most recent bowl games.
But No. 25 Iowa (8-5) was actually locked in a tight game in this one, until two fateful sequences turned the tide irreversibly.
The Hawkeyes intercepted Florida quarterback Austin Appleby twice in the early going, but could only turn those turnovers into three points.
With the score tied 3-3, Iowa moved to Florida’s 10-yard line midway through the second quarter. On third down, quarterback C.J. Beathard tucked the ball and ran around the left end, eluding two tacklers before being hit hard and landing just short of the goal line. Beathard pulled his hamstring on the run, but insisted on playing on.
A fourth-down attempt by LeShun Daniels Jr. never had a chance, the senior tailback being nailed for a two-yard loss by unblocked Florida safety Marcell Harris.
“They just made a better play than we did,” Beathard said. “The guy shot inside and they made a good goal-line stop when they needed to make a play.”
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With 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining until halftime, the No. 18 Gators (9-4) turned in another gem of a play. Third-string tailback Mark Thompson turned a simple screen pass into an 85-yard back-breaker, bursting through four missed tackles while leaving a trail of Hawkeye carnage on the way to the end zone. It was Thompson’s first touch of the game and the longest passing play in the 31-year history of the Outback Bowl.
“That play, it got away from us and that’s one we’d like to have back,” said cornerback Josh Jackson, the last Hawkeye to have a shot at bringing down Thompson.
“I think I just missed it. That happens. It’s football.”
Lamented Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz: “For us to be successful, we have to … do the little things right, and we came up a little bit short on that. We’ve done a pretty good job of that overall this season, but to come up short fourth-and-1 and then give up a big play like that, it’s hard to play good defense giving up big plays.”
In the third quarter, Iowa took the kickoff and drove 63 yards in 13 plays, only to bog down at Florida’s 12-yard line. This time, freshman Keith Duncan missed a 30-yard field-goal attempt and the Gators took control.
Florida marched 80 yards and got a 6-yard touchdown pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby and a 17-3 lead with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
“Those take a lot of breath out of you, especially when you get nothing out of the deal,” Beathard said of the red-zone failures. “But you’re still in the game.”
Not for long.
Florida’s Chauncey Gardner grabbed a deflected Beathard pass and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown just 16 seconds into the fourth quarter for a 24-3 lead that essentially ended things.
Two subsequent Beathard interceptions led to a pair of Eddy Pineiro field goals and the final margin.
“For us to give up two interceptions early in the game like that and hang in there, that says a lot for our resolve,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “And then to be able to get a couple there late in the game, I think that was really good.”
Beathard finished 7 of 23 for 55 yards in his Hawkeye swan song.
A group of 14 Iowa seniors left without recording a bowl-game victory.
“This is what we put all this work for throughout the season, to end the season up strong. To lose a bowl game four times in a row, it’s not fun, to say the least,” Hawkeyes senior defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said.
“We started off strong. They’ve got some guys that can just make plays and that’s what they did.”