UF/ Iowa Matchups

Florida is looking for a nine-win season for the fourth time since 1990, while the Iowa Hawkeyes are looking for their first January bowl win in 45 years. This match-up is one of the more intriguing on New Year's Day with the Big Ten and the SEC squaring off in Tampa.

There could be a strong argument that these were the two best conferences in college football in 2003. To illustrate how important this bowl game can be for these two opponents and the upcoming 2004 season just look at their opponents from last bowl season. Iowa lost to USC in the Orange Bowl. USC is ranked number one in the country and their opponent who may be the best team in the country Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Oh yes the Wolverines beat Florida last season in the Outback Bowl. Hmm…could the winner of this game be a top five team next season?

Florida's Key Matchups

Gator Wide Receivers vs Iowa Defensive Backs
The Hawkeyes have started the same secondary the entire secondary for seven straight games and the only reason that number is not twelve is the preseason injury to Bob Sanders. Sanders is an All-Big Ten selection and plays much like the Gators Guss Scott. Antwan Allen and Jovan Johnson are solid corners who have combined for 21 pass breakups, but they do not cover well in space and can be burned. When facing a strong tackling secondary like Iowa's, UF has been able to set up the deep play with short screens. OJ Small and Kelvin Kight will be key blockers for Carlos Perez (remember Georgia game) and vice versa. Look for the Gators to get Perez deep like the LSU and Miami games with play action screens. Iowa is very good at tackling and if UF cannot find anything outside the hash marks then it will be paramount to get the ball to tight end Ben Troupe and running backs in the middle of the field. It's a great challenge for the UF wideouts in which Jemalle Cornelius, Dallas Baker and Andre Caldwell could get opportunities to make big plays. This is a clear advantage for UF with speed and look for the Gators to hit at least three big plays .Iowa's secondary thrives when they know you have to throw because you cannot run.

Gator Defensive Line vs Iowa Offensive Line
While point production must come from the perimeter players the key for UF may be to slow down the Hawkeye running attack. Iowa will use three formations primarily and run the inside and outside zone versus your front seven. Robert Gallery is a first round prospect at offensive tackle and he can dominate the running game. It will be important versus the run for Bobby McCray and company to stay low in their gap and play their technique. The offensive line in general is very good and does a great job of engaging and sustaining blocks so that their tailback can find a crease to run. The front of Gallery, Jones, Rothwell, McMahon and Aiello have started six healthy games in a row together. Three of those six games Iowa has rushed for over 200 yards. Florida can however generate a pass rush and once they get to Nathan Chandler, getting him down may be a different problem. He is 6'7" and 260 pounds but the Hawkeyes did give up 22 sacks. The Gators may have to lean on Mo Mitchell to play well on the inside because of his size he may generate some problems for the Hawkeyes. The number one key is first down. If Ray McDonald, Kenny Parker, Marcus Thomas and Mitchell can disrupt things on first down UF will have a chance to slow down the Hawkeye attack.

Chris Leak vs the Iowa Defense
Leak has had a sensational season as the freshman quarterback and it could have been even better. Consider this: He had UF at the Miami 20 yard line in the five point loss, threw three fourth quarter interceptions in his first home start against Ole Miss in a three point loss and literally had the FSU win taken from him. This, my friends, is experience and Chris Leak now has plenty of it to go around. His game management is much better as is his passing over the middle of the field. Early on too many mistakes and high throws got Chris into trouble. He now scrambles or throws the ball away and lives to see another down. His performance against FSU 273 yards was the second highest by a freshman in Gator history (Wayne Peace 1980). Iowa, like Florida, wants to create turnovers by making you one dimensional. If UF cannot run the ball then they must put the game in the young freshman's hands. The Iowa secondary intercepted NFL first round prospect Ben Rothleisberger four times when they met Miami of Ohio. The Redhawks only managed 54 yards on the ground and it made it tough for Rothleisberger to find openings. Iowa had 31 sacks this season and forced 21 fumbles recovering 12. The playmaker for Iowa is Bob Sanders from the strong safety position and he caused six fumbles in just nine games this season. Iowa only gave up five passing touchdowns in the redzone area all season long so Leak will have to be creative and decisive when attacking inside the Hawkeye 20-yard line.

Gator Linebackers vs the Iowa Run/Pass game
Iowa's offense starts with the run but they can be deadly in the passing game especially the play action. UF linebackers must get into the right gaps and "fit" them properly or tailback Fred Russell (1205 yards rushing ) will make them pay. When Iowa decides to fake the run and pull the ball out for a pass it will be important for the linebackers to recognize and redirect to their spot on defense. While UF's secondary can certainly handle themselves in man to man coverage, it will be the crossing routes and the delay routes that will impact the linebackers. Channing Crowder obviously is the focus of the Gator attack and he must have a great day versus the run and also rushing the passer. Look for UF to take away the cutback for Iowa by walking Crowder up on the weakside. If Iowa chooses to run at Crowder then it plays into defensive coordinator Charlie Strong's hands. For this to work Reid Fleming, Matt Farrior and Earl Everett must tackle well. This could be a big breakout game for Earl Everett if he can react to the scheme of Iowa. It will help that he has had a couple of weeks to prepare. Iowa will hit some short passes but if Crowder can have a 15 tackle, one sack and a tip a pass or two UF can have success against the Hawkeyes.

Special Teams:
The kicking game could be the deciding factor and both teams are very solid. Nate Kaeding was the Lou Groza award winner and made 17 of 18 field goals and two over 50 yards. Matt Leach had a solid year that included a 50 yarder versus LSU and a game winner versus Georgia. The punting game is close as well as freshman phenom Eric Wilbur earned All-SEC Freshman honors by kicking 16 balls inside the 20 and averaged 44.8 yards per punt. David Bradley averaged 40.6 yards per punt for Iowa and had 17 balls downed inside the 20. The punt return game is a wash with Iowa widerReceiver Ramaon Ochoa and the Gators Keiwan Ratliff both solid and explosive. Both teams average 20 yards plus on kickoff returns. Iowa did block four punts this season and that could be the one edge in the matchup. Field position could be a big key especially early on in the football game. UF does not want Iowa to win the field position battle early and get the running game going on a short field.

This game is about rhythm and which team can establish it first may get the victory. Iowa wants to run, run and then hit you with the play action pass keeping down and distance in there favor. Florida would like to be balanced while allowing its quarterback to challenge the secondary in a no huddle attack. The Gator offense must get going quicker in this matchup than the FSU game because of the ability of Iowa to wear UF's defense out. Florida must avoid field goals inside the redzone and capitalize when the goal posts are in sight. Both defenses can also alter the outcome of the game. UF's defense has created 107 points for Florida's offense while intercepting 20 passes. They will not get as many opportunities early in the game because of Iowa's committment to the run. In Iowa's three losses they had 27 penalties and eight turnovers. On the flip side UF's offense must take some chances. Iowa is a great tackling team that can defend the run with base personnel. UF must not panic but also must loosen up the Hawkeye defense by getting their speed players the ball.

Key Players: Iowa
Nathan Chandler (QB), Fred Russell (RB), Ramon Ochoa (WR), Robert Gallery (OT), Matt Roth (DE), Abdul Hodge (LB), Chad Greenway (LB), Bob Sanders (DB)

Key Players: Florida
Chris Leak (QB), Ran Carthon (RB), Carlos Perez (WR), Ben Troupe (TE), Bobby McCray (DE), Channing Crowder (LB), Keiwan Ratliff (CB), Daryl Dixon (FS)

How will it play out?
Iowa usually get the ball first and will take it if they win the coin toss. Only twice did they not begin the game with the football this season. The reason is the running game and field position. Iowa is well coached and when they lose a game they look real bad with penalties, turnovers and a lethargic offense. UF must start well and play from ahead in the game. The defense does not have the size or depth to win a four-quarter slugfest.

Offensively, UF Offensive Coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher must find "free yards" in the running game with screens to the wide receivers and running backs. UF cannot wait until the second half to get Ben Troupe involved. He can help the run game by catching passes and keeping the aggressive linebackers honest. Between the two teams they have only lost three times since October 4th and whichever teams finds it's season ending rhythm after the long layoff may win the game .I think Iowa will be rusty early and turn the ball over much like last year versus Southern California. UF will get early turnovers to play from ahead and hang on to victory. This game could resemble the Arkansas game because of the style in which Iowa plays is similar to Arkansas. UF got ahead thanks to solid first half defense and an opportunistic big play offense. I look for the same formula in this battle.

Florida 33-28

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