Last Modified: Thursday, January 02, 2014 1:29 PM
By Scooter Hobbs / American Press
TAMPA, Fla. — Greetings from glorious Florida, the Sunshine State, America’s Playground.
Ignore that steady rain, the temperatures in the 50s, the slosh outside the door, your wet socks.
This is a vacation spot, kids, and a lot of money was spent getting you down here.
This is the Outback Bowl. LSU and Iowa.
So quit your sniveling and have fun. Do you hear me? Have fun. And I mean right now.
OK, the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce should have known better than to invite LSU.
The Tigers don’t do Florida very well for the holidays.
This is three straight LSU trips now for a Florida bowl that should have been telecast by The Weather Channel. But soon enough the area will be marveling at the economic impact of the Tigers’ visit — mostly from slicker-suit and poncho sales that no doubt soared through the roof outside Raymond James Stadium.
But grin and bear it.
At least the field turf held up this time — even when NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick drove his souped-up No. 4 Outback Chevrolet right out to midfield and fortunately resisted the fans’ plea to spin a few victory-lap donuts.
Bottom line, LSU won a bowl game for the first time in three tries and for the first time in Florida since 1987.
What? You wanted artistry? You wanted precision and excitement and shock-and-awe fireworks on New Years’ Day and a inspiring look into next fall?
Somehow it just wouldn’t have seemed right, wouldn’t have fit in with these miserable conditions.
So the Tigers won ugly, 21-14, and took their sweet time about putting away an Iowa team that can only thank its lucky cornstalks that Zach Mettenberger wasn’t available to quarterback against their Hawkeyes.
Not to venture too deep into SEC-Big 10 stereotypes, but the Hawkeyes looked a tad slooooow to be messing with LSU. The Tigers’ defensive front, which has had its issues this rebuilding season, also manhandled Iowa up front.
Maybe it’s just as well that Mettenberger was confined to coin toss duties and vigorous hand-clapping for his mates. It wouldn’t have been a fair fight if he’d been strafing Iowa and the Tigers’ had taken the wraps off Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham at wide receiver.
If Hawkeyes can be led to slaughter, that would have been the most likely scenario with Mettenberger in charge.
The scoreboard might have gotten as ugly as the game turned out.
Instead, LSU beat the Hawkeyes down and dirty and monotonously with one arm tied behind its back.
While LSU’s defense toyed with Iowa’s occasional attempts at offense, the Tigers’ own offense tried to stay out of the way while offering a glimpse into the post-Mettenberger Era.
As for that future, gosh, did you see LSU’s new quarterback, the young true freshman Anthony Jennings. How about THAT peek into next year’s Tiger offense?
Good gosh, but that young man surely can hand off that ball like a polished veteran.
By last count Jennings did it 43 times Wednesday and they were all flawless, right in the belly, occasionally a tough pitch back, seams up, and they all hit Jeremy Hill right in stride too.
It was breathtaking.
Jennings just seems like a natural-born hander-offer, and it’s hard to argue with putting the game in Hill’s hands and depending on his thick thighs and uncanny cutbacks when he’s going to gain 216 yards and almost single-handedly control the game from the opening play to what should have been the clinching, exclamation point drive.
Somehow, it seemed fitting to play it that way Wednesday.
Of course, there may come a day in the sleeker SEC next season when the Tigers may need more than 82 yards in the air, more than seven completions.
In that regard, OK, the look into the future might have caused some awful offensive flashbacks to those pre-Mettenberger days when every completed LSU pass seemed like drawing blood from a turnip.
“He was not perfect by any stretch,” LSU head coach Les Miles said. “But he did the things he needed to do.”
But, there will surely come a time when those expert handoffs won’t be enough.
I would suggest patience for now.
Whether it was the elements that kept LSU from opening up or, more likely, an attempt to minimize Jennings’ role in his first career start, there’s plenty of time to work with him.
Basically, when it was time to pass, LSU looked to be calling Mettenberger plays and expecting a square peg to fit into a round hole.
Jennings completed only 7 of 19 passes with costly (and way overthrown) interception.
Almost as telling, he was sacked four times despite excellent protection that does eventually have a time limit.
Maybe there wasn’t time to revamp the Tigers’ offense in a month.
And ugly as it was at times, it did what it had to do with the luxury of knowing Iowa wasn’t going to do much on its own.
But LSU will have to adjust this offense to a true dual-threat quarterback.
The only play that seemed designed to use Jennings’ feet was a no-brainer keeper on third-and-goal for the game’s first touchdown — the business end of a 77-yard drive with nary the thought of a forward pass.
Surely, there will be more Jennings runs in the playbook by next September. Right? In his first start he looked hesitant even to scramble after not locating any receivers.
LSU probably would have been better served letting him roll out of the pocket more. Marvelous handoffs aside, his best play probably came when he was flushed out of the pocket on third-and-13 and, after the Iowa defense turned its attention toward him, dropped off a 17-yard pass to Alfred Blue.
On his other rare ventures outside the pocket, his field awareness and vision looked much more encouaraging, but they were all too rare.
So I’m guessing you didn’t really see next year’s LSU’s offense. If it was, it’s not going to be pretty.