Dec. 29, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Wednesday's gameday forecast calls for sun and 72-degrees, so you could say today was about half right.
The Hawkeyes practiced in an off-and-on downpour today at Jesuit High School. The rain was constant. Light one minute, heavy the next, but it didn't deter a team that routinely braves the wavering gifts from Mother Nature.
"The rain wasn't a distraction... it was actually kind of fun," said strong safety John Lowdermilk. "You feel like a little kid again playing in the rain. It wasn't a distraction and once you start focusing on the football stuff you don't realize it's raining anyway."
Concentrating on the "football stuff" is paramount for the Hawkeyes as they prepare for a date with No. 14 LSU on Jan. 1 at the 2014 Outback Bowl.
The Tigers bring a blend of certainty and doubt to the field, and the Hawkeyes are well aware of both.
"We know we'll have to play assignment football. Big plays come from miscommunication and not being in this gap or that gap. It's about being fundamentally sound and having everybody on the same page. I think we've done a lot better of eliminating those types of things as the season went on."
"They have playmakers all over the field," said free safety Tanner Miller. "They have two NFL draft picks at wide receiver and they have good backs. I think the wildcard is going to be their quarterback. He's had a limited number of snaps, but he looks like he has a lot of abilities."
That wildcard quarterback is Anthony Jennings, a true freshman that will become the second quarterback in LSU history to make his first career start in a bowl game.
"He's a different kind of player," said Miller. "He's great at extending plays with his feet and he's a little more of a run threat. It's going to be a great challenge and we're looking forward to it."
Jennings is under center because starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger suffered a season-ending injury in LSU's regular season finale against Arkansas. Jennings made the most of his relief appearance, leading a 99-yard drive in the final minutes and beating the Razorbacks with a 49-yard scoring strike.
"He reminds me a little of Braxton Miller," said linebacker James Morris. "We know he has a big arm. How accurate he is... we don't know."
Jennings won't have to be Robin Hood when firing downfield. LSU has a pair of 1,000-yard targets on the outside that are more than capable of turning a bad throw into a big play. The Tigers have 83 plays this season of 20-plus yards, the seventh-highest total in the country.
On the flip side, Iowa has allowed just 30 plays of 20-plus yards, tied for the lowest total in the country.
"We know we'll have to play assignment football," said Miller. "Big plays come from miscommunication and not being in this gap or that gap. It's about being fundamentally sound and having everybody on the same page. I think we've done a lot better of eliminating those types of things as the season went on."
LSU also has a 1,000-yard rusher in the backfield and the reigning Paul Hornung Award winner, an honor that recognizes the nation's most versatile player. All of this, of course, is not news to Iowa.
"We know they're all good players," said defensive end Mike Hardy. "They have a lot of skill; a lot of fast, quick guys. That's what the SEC is known for and we're prepared. We're working hard and I think we'll be alright."