Howe: Season a Success

Iowa 2013 football season ended in disappointment in Wednesday's 21-14 loss to LSU in the Outback Bowl, but the Hawkeyes got back on track this fall. The challenge will be for them to keep things going next year.

TAMPA, Fla. - The question was loaded. Someone asked Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz if this season was gratifying.

The Iowa coach held it together pretty well. He explained his pride for a group that reached a New Year's Day Bowl 13 months after winning four games. Then, the more he talked the more he thought about the young men who refused to experience that again.

An emotional Ferentz began welling up in the eyes. He stopped. He gathered himself and finished.

Tears have rolled down Ferentz's face in the past while describing program accomplishments. The experience probably helped him control his emotions here Wednesday after allowing a glimpse into his heart.

Ferentz bleeds black and gold. Nobody hurts more when the Hawkeyes fall short.

It certainly felt bad after losing 21-14 to No. 14 LSU in the Outback Bowl Wednesday at Raymond James Stadium. The big picture told the coach and his hard-working players and assistants that the season still was a success.

"We went in that locker room and we all had our heads held high because we fought," Hawkeye Senior Jordan Cotton said. "That's what we do. That's what we've been doing since last November."

The Tigers (10-3) showed they were a better team than Iowa. The Hawkeyes (8-5) proved they could play with a program that has won a national championship and played for two of them in the last seven years.

Again, Iowa players and coaches are upset by the loss. It's fine and appropriate to be disappointed as fans. Accepting moral victories stinks but sometimes it's part of the process.

The Hawkeyes are trending in the right direction, a completely different position than they were in a year ago. Now, we get to see what they do for an encore.

The Tigers exposed some glaring Iowa weakness. While improved from last year's train wreck on offense, the Hawkeyes continued to be inconsistent on that side of the ball Wednesday.

LSU confused Iowa early with different looks on defense. The Hawkeyes managed just 15 rushing yards on 16 carries in the first half and did not score.

"They weren't allowing us to do certain things," Iowa Quarterback Jake Rudock said. "It's a credit to their coaches of doing a good job game planning and understanding how we like to run things."

Rudock praised LSU for taking away the Hawkeyes' bread and butter play this season, the inside zone run.

"They did a really good job of that," he said. "That starts with the front four and the linebackers filling hard."

Essentially, the Tigers committed to stopping Iowa's run game. Then, they applied enough pressure to rattle Rudock when he dropped back to pass. The Hawkeye receivers, other than tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey, got little separation from the LSU defensive backs.

Iowa's first touchdown resulted from safety Johnny Lowdermilk returning an interception 71 yards to the Tiger one. The Hawkeyes second score came on the heals of a Cotton 96-yard kickoff return to the LSU 4. They converted just 6 of 19 third down plays on the day.

"Maybe just executing more details," Junior Receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said of the next step for Iowa's offense. "I had a few drops throughout the season; correcting those, myself. Other guys had drops. Just making more big plays, we can do that more. We're going to get back to work and we'll be better next year."

Iowa's offensive inconsistency this season applied a lot of pressure on its defense. The unit answered the call more often than not. It achieved that Wednesday save the game's opening drive and one late in the fourth quarter that pushed the Tigers to a 21-7 lead with under three minutes to play.

The Hawkeyes corralled LSU's 1,000-yard receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who combined for four catches and 56 yards. However, Tiger running back Jeremy Hill barreled over Iowa for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. On one play, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore plowed over defensive tackle Carl Davis, who's 6-5, 315.

"I was surprised when he got there but he had his momentum," Davis said. "He's a great back. Credit to him."

In a close game, a few key plays crippled the Hawkeyes. Martin-Manley muffed a punt return setting LSU up at the Iowa 39. It led to Hill's 14-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 Tigers' lead.

The Hawkeyes drove the ball 58 yards in 13 plays to open the second half. Normally reliable kicker Mike Meyer pushed a 35-yard field goal attempt wide right.

Iowa failed on a fake punt at the beginning of the fourth quarter. It cost the Hawkeyes valuable minutes on the clock. They lost the turnover battle, 2-1.

However, after all of that, Iowa competed well with a program that has won 10 or more games for four years in a row and likely will finish this season ranked in the Top 10. This, 13 months removed from the Hawkeyes losing their final six games of the 2012 campaign.

"We came up short today, but I'm extremely proud of these guys," Ferentz said. "It's been a lot of fun to be around them on a daily basis. There's not much more you can ask for. We've competed hard and given ourselves a chance to win.

"It wasn't looking good today but all of a sudden we're back in the ballgame."

Iowa's senior class left a legacy of helping to turn around the program's fortunes. They've challenged next year's team to continue the positive momentum.

"You always want to win the game. It's tough to lose a game like that, especially when the offense wasn't moving the ball at all," Junior Running Back Mark Weisman said. "Bu the senior class has led us through and set the bar for Iowa football. It's up to us younger guys to keep it going."

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