TAMPA, Fla. — In the end, LSU fans who stayed away from "sunny" Tampa for the Outback Bowl made the right choice from a viewer comfort and excitement point of view.
On a rainy and miserable day, No. 14 LSU kept it nearly as ugly but oh so effective for a 21-14 victory over unranked Iowa at the Outback Bowl in a mostly empty Raymond James Stadium Wednesday afternoon. Only 6,000 or so bought tickets from LSU and it looked like less than that made it through the misty rain for the game. The crowd was announced as 51,296, but someone was smoking some strong cigars.
There were not a lot of fireworks, but the Tigers looked powerful with a pronounced pop in the running game from the outset as they beat old school Iowa at its own game with 220 rushing yards to 76. Tailback Jeremy Hill sprinted through a cornfield-sized hole on the very first play of the game for 42 yards, and the Hawkeyes never really did adjust.
With it raining in the first quarter, LSU ran on every play of a eight-yard, 77-play touchdown drive for a 7-0 lead with Hill carrying five times for 60 yards. Former Iowa coach Hayden Fry would have been proud.
"That's who they are," present Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, a Fry disciple, said admiringly. "They run the ball. They're not a finesse team at all."
In what was likely his last game at LSU as he is expected to put his name into the 2014 NFL Draft as a third-year sophomore, Hill gained 216 yards on 28 carries for a whopping 7.7 yards a carry. He had 102 yards by the half. LSU also stopped the run as it held Iowa's large fullback, Mark Weisman, to 37 yards on 18 carries for a 2.1-yard average.
The Tigers, who finished 10-3 and will likely end up in the top 10, led 14-0 at the half, and it looked over even with the rain stopping.
Other than Hill and the offensive line, though, there was nothing to speak of on LSU's offense. The only other player to have a good game was recent quarterback signee Brandon Harris, who did not play but is suddenly back in the running for the starting job next fall. LSU coach Les Miles may be watching him closely on ESPN Thursday afternoon in the Under Armour All-American game in St. Petersburg.
True freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings, the hero of the Arkansas game after senior starter Zach Mettenberger went down with a knee injury, did not look like the future just yet. He missed open receivers deep and finished with just seven completions out of 19 attempts for 82 yards and gained only 12 yards rushing on seven carries while being sacked four times.
Jennings also put Iowa back in the game on LSU's opening possession of the third quarter when he threw well over the head of tight end Travis Dickson. Safety John Lowdermilk intercepted and returned it 71 yards to the 1-yard line. It would have been a touchdown, but he let go of the ball out of bounds just before scoring. The Hawkeyes (8-5) scored three plays later.
Jennings threw only five more times the rest of the game and was sacked twice. On a six-play, 92-yard touchdown drive for a 21-7 lead with 2:02 to play, LSU did not pass or try to. Hill got it four times for gains of 2, 28, 20 and the 37-yard touchdown.
Iowa cut it to 21-14 as Jordan Cotton returned the kickoff 96 yards to set up a touchdown before LSU ran out the clock.
"They look like an NFL team. They're not a finesse outfit," Ferentz said again. "We're not a finesse team either. They took that first possession and pretty much drove it at ease, and they did the same thing on the last possession."
Unfortunately, there is not an NFL quarterback in sight at the moment at LSU.
"He did some things he'd like to have back," LSU coach Les Miles said. "Anthony Jennings in his first start was tight as heck."
The NFL back will be gone, but LSU should get a commitment from another one – tailback Leonard Fournette of St. Augustine in New Orleans – Thursday at the Under Armour game in St. Petersburg along with some other prime studs.
As good as Hill is, Fournette is supposed to be better. He will not be at quarterback, but he will have the ball most of the time.
If you missed the Outback Bowl, you'll get a chance to see its ilk much of next season.
Glenn Guilbeau also writes for Gannett Louisiana.