This was supposed to be an evenly matched defensive struggle between the SEC and the Big 10.
Someone forgot to tell the Gators.
Florida took advantage of three interceptions from CJ Beathard and made enough big plays on offense to throttle Iowa in the Outback Bowl, 30-3. The win gives Florida just their second bowl win since the 2011 season, and it marks the most lopsided bowl defeat the Gators have administered since a 51-24 spanking of Cincinnati to cap the 2009 season.
Iowa came into the game with a pair of highly touted rushers in Akrum Wadley and LaShun Daniels, Jr. and the sixth rated quarterback on Mel Kiper’s NFL Draft board. They left the game with 226 yards of total offense and a bowl beat down that was every bit as bad as last year’s 45-16 Rose Bowl defeat to Stanford.
The Hawkeyes actually scored first. Midway through the first quarter, Austin Appleby’s pass was batted at the line and picked by Desmond King at the Gators’ 27. But after Wadley picked up a first down, the Gators drove Iowa backwards and forced a field goal.
Then it was Florida’s turn.
The Gators responded by flying right down the field and setting up a field goal for Eddy Pineiro. The game briefly devolved into the defensive struggle it was billed to be, with the Gators stuffing Iowa on fourth and goal for a two yard loss and neither team making any real noise offensively until the end of the first half.
That was when Florida began landing haymakers. First came a short screen pass to Mark Thompson that turned into an 85 yard touchdown after he broke four arm tackles to end the half. After Iowa missed a field goal to start the third quarter, the Gators went flying right back down the field again, a drive that seemingly ended with Appleby hitting Tyrie Cleveland for a touchdown. That play was nullified by an illegal procedure penalty, so Appleby simply threw another touchdown, this time to DeAndre Goolsby.
Then came the knockout punch.
Down 17-3 and clearly in trouble, Beathard tried to lead Iowa back into the game. Instead, he took the Hawkeyes out of the game with a pick six to Chauncey Gardner.
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) January 2, 2017
Beathard would throw two more picks- one more to Gardner and one to Daniel McMillian- to set up two Eddy Pineiro field goals, and finish with a career worst three interceptions. He also finished the day with just 55 yards through the air- also a career worst. But that’s the least of our worries; for the first time all season, Florida put a quality opponent away before crunch time. And the Gators ended the year with a win.
Not a bad way to end a season that appeared to be spiraling out of control.
Florida was sitting pretty at 3-0 when suddenly it stalled in the rarefied air atop the SEC East with a shocking 38-28 loss to Tennessee. Somehow they recovered to beat LSU in Death Valley and re-claim the SEC East crown. But then they totally collapsed, losing to FSU and Alabama by a combined score of 85-29 and stirring up some unrest among the Gator fan base.
Make no mistake. Florida needed this victory today, not just to finish the year with the win, but to get this program back on the right track as we enter the long offseason that’s going to be filled simultaneously with speculation and hope. Winning bowl games can leave a lasting impression on recruits, as it’s the last time they see teams play before making their decisions on February 1. And… damnit, it just makes us fans feel good. It’s a huge momentum builder.
So Jim McElwain now has a bowl win to counter his critics, but that won’t be enough for very long. Now, the task falls on him and his staff to take the momentum his team generated this past month, and run with it. And if he can do that, it won’t take long for the results to show.