Outback Bowl Primer: Iowa vs. LSU
Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa return to Florida once again; it’s a yearly bowl tradition for the Hawkeyes. Ferentz was able to quiet the critics with a strong finish to the 2013 campaign, but they will crow again if he can’t climb back up the Big Ten mountain next season. A win against a big-name SEC opponent would buy him some more goodwill.
LSU is not playing for such high stakes. Les Miles' job is stable, and while the Tigers are wounded and battered from their SEC losses, overall it has been a good season. LSU was the only team to beat Auburn this year and they were able to ruin Johnny Football’s Heisman chances; they seem to enjoy playing spoiler and will come after the Hawkeyes.
Motivation: The Hawkeyes have bought into Ferentz’s message and appear to genuinely care about this game. They are looking for respectability and to finish the season with a marquee win on national TV.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Iowa has a rather vanilla offense but a strong defense that has stifled Big Ten teams all year. The linebacker corps has played well and the defensive line has shown tremendous growth. Iowa has lost to some good teams: NIU, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes protect the ball (13th-best turnover margin in the country) and rely on their defense to stay in games.
Weakness: The passing game. Iowa doesn’t throw the ball often and when it does, it is with middling success. The Hawkeyes only average 7.0 yards per pass, pedestrian numbers. While LSU’s defense isn’t as good this year as it has been, a mediocre offense will struggle to keep up with LSU’s scoring pace.
Motivation: The Tigers will be playing for a 10-win season, which is a big deal to some, and definitely a big deal to Miles. Anthony Jennings will get a big stage to make his case as LSU’s 2014 quarterback. Whenever there is a cross-conference matchup, the SEC teams tend to show a lot of pride. Bowl season is a unique time in the SEC where rivalries are put aside for the sake of conference dominance (except for Alabama fans).
If You’ve Never Seen Them: LSU has changed! Their calling card this year really has been their offense. Zach Mettenberger had a good year and continued to grow as the Tigers faithful hoped. New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron vastly improved this unit over past renditions. If this is your first LSU experience of the year, keep your eye on Odell Beckham Jr. The kid is an NFL prospect and a threat to score on every catch.
Weakness: The Tigers’ defense is weaker than it has been in recent memory. They make up for their deficiencies in aggressiveness. LSU always has amazing athletes on the edges, but they’ve been beaten in man-to-man coverage against balanced attacks. It shouldn’t be much of a problem against a mostly one-dimensional Hawkeyes team.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: LSU -8.