Iowa Muzzles Gators!
Jan 1, 2004
TAMPA, FL. -- Kirk Ferentz became the first Iowa coach since the legendary Forest Evashevski in 1959 to win a bowl game in January Thursday as the Hawkeyes decimated the University of Florida 37-17 in the 2004 Outback Bowl inside Raymond James Stadium.
In a contest that featured almost all of the best plays of the 2003-2004 Hawkeyes, 12th-ranked Iowa made defeating the 17th-ranked Gators look like child's play, as the Hawks scored 20 unanswered points following a 70-yard first-strike TD pass by former Iowa recruit and present Florida standout freshman quarterback Chris Leak.
Leak's 267 yards on 22 completions and two touchdowns couldn't carry his team, which allowed Fred Russell to rush, or dance if you will, for 150 yards on 21 carries (the seventh time he's rushed over 100 yards this season) and reach the end zone once.
"Chris had a tough day," Florida coach Ron Zook said. "Once again, you've got to give Iowa credit. They did a great job."
The long-injured but still very effective receiver Maurice Brown added 96 yards on six catches, including a 41-yarder, while quarterback Nathan Chandler went 13-of-26 for 170 yards connecting with Brown on a 3-yarder in response to Leak's bomb in the first quarter.
The bowl victory was Iowa's 10th in school history and the final collegiate game for all three match-up leaders as well as 2003 Outland Trophy winner Robert Gallery and 2002 Lou Groza recipient Nate Kaeding, who was unsurprisingly perfect on the day with four extra points and four field goals, including a 47-yarder to open the second quarter and give the Hawkeyes an unyielding lead.
"This is very gratifying and very rewarding," said Ferentz, who has guided Iowa to a school-best 21-5 overall record the last two years. "None of us had a good taste in our mouths after the game last January. It stuck with us."
Last year, USC defeated the Hawkeyes 38-17 in the Orange Bowl at Miami. In 2004, Iowa changed its preparation plan, staying in Florida without interlude for more than a week before the match-up, and completely reversed the situation on the opposite coast of the Sunshine State.
Iowa defeated Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl but hadn't won a January bowl since defeating California in the 1959 Rose Bowl. The end of the 45-year drought has helped the Hawkeyes re-establish themselves as a premiere Division I-A football program, according to the coach.
"I think it's just one more step toward credibility," Ferentz said. "I had no idea -- none of us knew -- how many games we would win this season. Our guys feel awfully good about what they've accomplished."
The win has also reignited speculation that 2002 AP Coach of the Year Ferentz will move up to the NFL, especially considering the number of high-profile head coach openings in the league. But Ferentz has repeatedly denied interest in leaving Iowa City. That, however, is the exact opposite position of Gallery, Kaeding and Russell, who have confirmed with hawkeyesports.com their desire to play in the pros.
For Russell, who still has one year of eligibility left at Iowa at his option, the Outback Bowl could be a springboard. He broke free for a 25-yard run on Iowa's first play and had 95 on 12 attempts at the half.
"I thought this was his best season," said Ferentz of the senior. "With the injuries we had and the guys that we lost, obviously all eyes were on Fred from the get-go. I thought he played outstanding football all season long and he finished up strong."
The Hawkeyes' defense held the Gators to just 59 yards rushing and 326 total on 69 plays. And the secondary was able to draw an important offensive pass interference penalty that eliminated a touchdown that would have cut Iowa's lead to 10.
Special teams also lit up, as Matt Melloy blocked Eric Wilbur's punt and fell on it for a touchdown to give the Hawkeyes a 20-point lead early in the second half. And punter David Bradley had seven boots for 300 yards with a 49-yarder.
Indeed, everything came together for Iowa to end a season never predicted to close so favorably. The Hawkeyes conclude at 10-3 overall.
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com The Associated Press contributed to this report.