TAMPA, Fla. — Two defining moments six minutes apart Monday led to one frustrating finish for the Iowa football team.
One was on offense, the other on defense, and both sent 20th-rated Florida on its way to a humbling 30-3 victory over the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl.
“We were going back and forth, kind of duking it out with them the way we thought we would and all of a sudden, it changed,’’ running back LeShun Daniels said. “A couple of moments we’d like to have back. It doesn’t work that way.’’
Daniels found himself in the middle of the first.
Iowa and Florida were locked in a 3-3 defensive struggle midway through the second quarter before the Hawkeyes put together their first sustained drive of the game. A six-yard pick-up by C.J. Beathard from the Florida seven-yard line left Iowa with a fourth-and-goal situation inside the one.
The handoff went to Daniels, but the Gators’ Marcell Harris blew through a missed block and dropped the Hawkeye senior for a two-yard loss.
“I needed to get the yard there,’’ Daniels said. “That’s something that I needed to get done. We did a good job moving the ball down there to put ourselves in a position to score, but I couldn’t get into the end zone. Their guy made a good play, but I’ve got to get it done there. That was tough.’’
Things got even tougher for the Hawkeyes six minutes later after the two teams traded punts, a 51-yarder by the Gators’ Johnny Townsend followed a 53-yard effort from Ron Coluzzi which left Florida on its 15-yard line with 2 minutes, 2 seconds remaining in the first half.
Mark Thompson didn’t keep the Gators there for long, catching a screen pass from Austin Appleby and eluding tackle attempts by five Hawkeyes on his way to an 85-yard touchdown run.
The longest pass play in Outback Bowl history left Iowa in a 10-3 halftime hole.
“It comes down to us making tackles. Our tackling wasn’t what it has been or what it needs to be,’’ linebacker Ben Niemann said. “We didn’t tackle the way we can. Their quickness, it might have been a factor, but a lot of it is on us. We didn’t do our job.’’
Linebacker Josey Jewell called the performance “frustrating.’’
Florida coach Jim McElwain called the moment game changing.
“In a game like that where there wasn’t a lot of give and take there, to bust one like was big,’’ McElwain said. “We did a good job at times of getting our playmakers and our skill guys in space and Mark is one of those guys. Credit the guys downfield, too. They got pieces of guys along the way so he could finish.’’
Iowa never got that chance.
The Hawkeyes’ defense did intercept Appleby to end the Gators’ first two possessions of the game, but the picks by Brandon Snyder and Desmond King early in the game led only to a 36-yard Keith Duncan field goal which gave Iowa its only points of the game.
“We had some chances early that we didn’t make the most of. The defense did a great job of getting us the ball. We just didn’t get much going,’’ said Beathard, who completed just 7-of-23 passes for 55 yards. “That kind of set a tone.’’
Beathard played much of the game with a hamstring injury suffered in the first half, something that limited his running ability.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said Iowa didn’t take advantage of opportunities as it had throughout its most successful moments of an 8-5 season.
“We’ve been an opportunistic football team this year and to come up short in the red zone and earlier in the game as well, those are the plays we have to make if we’re going to have a chance to compete against a team like Florida,’’ Ferentz said.
Duncan added to the Hawkeyes’ frustration in the third quarter when Iowa took the kickoff and moved 62 yards on 13 plays before the true freshman missed a kick for just the second time this season, shanking a field goal try from 30 yards with 7:35 left in the quarter.
Florida answered with a 12-play, 80-yard march of its own that ended with a six-yard Appleby-to-DeAndre Goolsby touchdown pass with :48 to play in the third.
Four snaps later, Iowa’s chances were all but over when Chauncey Gardner returned the first of three interceptions thrown by Beathard in the fourth quarter 58 yards for a touchdown which left the Hawkeyes in a 24-3 hole.
Gardner, named the game’s most valuable player, and Daniel McMillian picked off Beathard on Iowa’s next two possessions as well and Florida’s Eddy Pineiro followed with his second and third field goals of the game.
“It just wasn’t our day,’’ said running back Akrum Wadley, who topped the 1,000-yard mark for the season by leading Iowa with 115 yards on 22 carries and four receptions for 21 yards.
“We didn’t make enough plays and against a team like that, you’ve got to make plays all day.’’