Last Modified: Thursday, January 02, 2014 1:29 PM
By Scooter Hobbs / American Press
TAMPA, Fla. — When LSU’s Jeremy Hill broke free for a 42-yard run of the first play against Iowa Wednesday, the Outback Bowl might as well have named its MVP right then and there.
The Hawkeyes weren’t going to stop him. And LSU wasn’t going to quit giving him the ball.
“I think we realized there were some advantages right there and didn’t want to get away from them,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He really put the finishing touches on the Iowa team and put this game on his back at the end.”
Hill rushed for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a slick, sloppy track as the Tigers threw out the aesthetics and gutted their way through a 21-14 victory over Iowa.
Nothing fancy — “Our plan was to just hit them in the mouth, keep drives going,” LSU fullback Connor Neighbors said.
Certainly not a work of art. And there were probably more anxious moments than the Tigers’ dominance would suggest.
They had to survive some growing pains in true freshman Anthony Jennings’ first start at quarterback.
But it broke a two-year bowl losing streak and gave the 14thranked Tigers 10 wins (10-3) for a school-record fourth straight year.
“Gutsy performance from start to finish,” Miles said.
“It was smash-mouth football,” said LSU’s Odell Beckham, who wasn’t much of a factor away from scrum at wide receiver.
Hill’s opening romp set up LSU’s first touchdown, he scored the second from 14 yards out and thought he had put the game away with a 37-yard score with 2:02 to play.
“There was no surprise there,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s who they are. When they run the ball they’re not a finesse team at all.”
If it was Hill’s last game with LSU before making himself eligible for the NFL draft, he saved the best for last with a career-best game while rushing for more yards than any Tiger back since Alley Broussard went for 250 against Ole Miss in 2004.
“I definitely didn’t have 216 yards on my mind when I woke up,” said Hill. “The only thing I had on my mind was taking what I could get.”
That turned out to be a bunch, mostly with patience against an Iowa defense used to making plays in opposing backfields by crowding and overloading the line.
“So we just took what we could get and not try to do too much,” Hill said. “When our offensive line did block them successfully, we gashed them for big plays.”
LSU needed all the running game it could get.
With Zach Mettenberger out at quarterback, Jennings struggled to throw in his first start, completing just 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards and a costly interception that gift-wrapped Iowa’s first touchdown.
“He did some things he’d like to have back,” Miles said of Jennings. “But he managed the game and came away with victory.
“There’s some lessons he learned that will benefit him. First outing, he learned a lot.”
Mostly to get the ball to Hill.
“With Anthony making his first start, we knew knew we would have to be successful running,” Hill said. “We got the tough yards.”
But the pesky Hawkeyes didn’t go down quietly, mostly on the strength of two plays.
The Tigers held Iowa to just 233 yards and the LSU defense is probably still trying to figure out how it got charged with 14 points.
“That defense played spectacularly,” Miles said.
Twice the Tiger defense stuffed Iowa on fourth-down gambles.
But Iowa’s two scoring drives had to travel only a combined five yards — 1 yard after Jennings’ worst pass sailed over a wide open Neighbors and was returned 71 yards by John Loudermilk and 4 yards after Jordon Cotton returned a late kickoff 96 yards to keep the game in doubt.
Take away those miscues — no fault of the defense — and, as Miles said, “there’s a chance that defense could have played perfectly.”
The latter came after LSU rode the Hill train 72 yards for a 21-14 lead. Hill broke free for consecutive gains of 28 and 20 yards, then scored from 37 yards out with 2:02 to play.
“He’s one of those backs that if you give him the opportunity to close out a game, he knows what to do,” Miles said. “He made some nice cuts.”
But after Cotton’s return got Iowa back to 21-14, the Tigers couldn’t put the game away until Neighbors recovered an onsides kick attempt.