With LSU leading 14-0 in the third quarter of Wednesday's Outback Bowl, Iowa defensive back John Lowdermilk picked off a pass and returned it for what initially appeared to be a touchdown. But replays showed that Lowdermilk had started his celebration too early and dropped the ball at the half-yard line. The Tigers, assuming a touchdown had been scored, didn't recover the ball, and referees gave the Hawkeyes possession inside the one.
If a single play could sum up Iowa's afternoon, it was this one. In a sloppy game with little offense and some unusual situations, the Hawkeyes repeatedly came up short. LSU looked dominant for parts of the game, so it's unfair to say that the Tigers didn't earn the victory. But throughout the second half, Iowa had opportunities on which it failed to capitalize.
LSU started the game by putting to rest any worries that it would play flat. The Tigers scored on their opening drive without attempting a pass. In the second quarter, commentator Jon Gruden joked that if he came back to coach, he'd want to be the LSU running backs coach. A minute later, Jeremy Hill broke through a pair of arm tackles and carried a defender with him into the end zone on a 14-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead. Hill finished the game with 216 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
But for much of the second half, LSU played like a team that had lost its senior quarterback to a torn ACL in the regular season finale (Zach Mettenberger) and was being led by a freshman backup making his first career start (Anthony Jennings). The Hawkeyes didn't take advantage.
Take one sequence from early in the fourth quarter. On third-and-one, Iowa -- which played the final 15 minutes without starting quarterback Jake Rudock, who left with a leg injury -- ran a quarterback sneak that would have given the Hawkeyes a first down, but officials blew the pay dead, saying that LSU's defense had not had a chance to match up. On the subsequent attempt, the Hawkeyes were stuffed. But the Tigers made an illegal substitution on Iowa's punt, which gave the Hawkeyes a first down. With a new set of downs, Iowa fullback Mark Weisman lost a yard on third-and-two. From the LSU 46, Weisman then tried to run for a first down off a fake punt, but the Tigers brought him down a yard short.
Late in the fourth quarter, down 14-7, Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard rolled right on fourth-and-one and threw the ball back toward the middle of the field. LSU safety Craig Loston intercepted the pass. On the subsequent possession, Hill broke three big runs, the last for a 37-yard touchdown. It was an appropriate ending. Hill was the star all day, and the Tigers looked a class apart from Iowa. But those last three big runs wouldn't have happened without a Hawkeyes mistake.