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Outback Bowl Football

Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard (16) played injured Monday and finished 7-of-23 passing for 55 yards in an Outback Bowl loss to Florida.

Five things to think about following Iowa's season-ending 30-3 loss Monday to Florida in the Outback Bowl:

1. The good

As ugly as the Outback Bowl turned out to be, there were a few glimpses of good to be gleaned from the Hawkeyes' fifth consecutive bowl loss.

First, Iowa actually led in a bowl game.

Keith Duncan's 36-yard field goal in the first quarter gave the Hawkeyes their first lead in a bowl since Micah Hyde returned an interception 72 yards in the fourth quarter of the 2010 Insight Bowl to give Iowa a 27-24 win over Missouri.

That's 16 quarters of football in bowls that ended with the Hawkeyes trailing on the scoreboards. That's a tough way to win.

Second, even in defeat the fact that Iowa was on the field in January bowl game remains a testament to the resiliency and leadership of a team which finished an 8-5 season on Monday.

The 14 seniors on this year's team provided guidance which helped the Hawkeyes recover from that dismal 41-14 performance at Penn State and a 5-4 record at the time. The way this team responded speaks to the character of the players in the program and shouldn't be lost in a season-ending setback. 

2. The bad

The Hawkeye defense had its moments against Florida, although the Gators topped 21 points for the first time in six games since putting 24 on the board in an Oct. 29 win over Georgia.

Iowa sacked quarterback Austin Appleby three times, twice bringing an end to first-half drives that kept the Hawkeyes in the game.

However, Iowa struggled to slow the Gators passing attack. Florida averaged 15.9 yards on its 14 completions and four of the Gators' five plays of 20 yards or more against the Hawkeyes came on pass plays.

The Hawkeyes struggled with tackling as much in this game as they had in any game since the Penn State loss. You can point to Florida's speed for some of that, but Iowa's technique was not as sharp as it has been on a day when it needed to be.

More than one Hawkeye pointed to communication issues as one of the reasons behind Florida's explosive plays. That shouldn't be as significant of a problem as it appeared to be in the 13th game of the season.

Mark Thompson, who really hadn't been much of a contributor in the Gators' attack this season, slipped past the reach of five wannabe tacklers on his 85-yard dash to the end zone on a screen pass which moved Florida ahead to stay.

3. The ugly

It's been a roller coaster ride of a season for Iowa and particular for its offense and Monday was no different.

Florida's defense entered the game ranked among the nation's top 10 in five different statistical categories and Iowa did nothing to challenge that.

Akrum Wadley demonstrated the type of ability that has him contemplating a possible early exit for the NFL draft, rushing for 115 yards and catching four of the seven passes Iowa managed to complete in 24 attempts in the game.

Wadley's the real deal, although a year of physical growth and demonstrating that he can actually maintain a weight that would allow him to function at the next level would only benefit him.

Iowa finished with 226 yards of offense and averaged just 3.5 yards on the 65 plays it ran.

The Hawkeyes inability to escape the slow start they talked about avoiding and capitalize with more than a field goal on two first-quarter interceptions set an ominous tone.

A missed block at the fullback position on the fourth-and-goal play from the one in the second quarter and a missed field goal at the end of a solid drive to open the second half took Iowa out of any chance it had to hang with the Gators.

Iowa certainly has issues at receiver that need to be addressed. The loss of Matt VandeBerg to injury was significant and while Riley McCarron provided the Hawkeyes with as much as he could, he was the only receiver to actually catch a pass against Florida, gaining 11 yards on a third-quarter catch. Running back Akrum Wadley caught four balls while tight ends George Kittle and Peter Pekar had Iowa's other two receptions.

Iowa's lack of game-ready depth at the receiving positions came back to bite the development of an offense which became one dimensional during the latter half of the season.

VandeBerg's return next season will help, but the Hawkeyes need significant development from other returning players at the position and recruiting help to give some needed balance to the Iowa attack in 2017.

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4. The really ugly

C.J. Beathard deserved better in his collegiate finale than what he got Monday.

Credit Beathard with all he did for the Iowa program during his career. Few Hawkeyes have played the quarterback position with the tenacity and spirit that Beathard brought to the field.

But it was sad to watch a hobbling senior throw pick after pick after pick in the fourth quarter of his college finale. The hamstring injury he suffered while trying to punch the ball into the end zone before the fourth-down stop by the Gators midway through the second quarter impacted Beathard's performance for the rest of the game.

His lack of mobility should have at least led coaches to give their senior a bit of a breather at some point in the second half.

I get that Beathard didn't want to come out of the game. I get that his toughness has made him a 21-game winner behind center at Iowa. What I don't get is why he was left to wither on the vine as the game slipped away when he clearly wasn't that same quarterback.

5. The race

Four weeks from tomorrow is signing day.

Iowa has open scholarships and once the current dead period ends in recruiting, the Hawkeyes need to address needs.

And Iowa needs wins between now and Feb. 1 even more than it needed a victory at Raymond James Stadium.

If the Hawkeyes hope to some day to put an end to the current five-game bowl losing streak and more importantly, elevate the program to that next tier on a national scale, Iowa needs upgrades at receiver.

It also needs to work to put into place its next generation of linebackers to go with the core of a 2017 recruiting class led by A.J. Epenesa and Tristan Wirfs, both preparing this week to play in Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl prep all-star game in San Antonio.