The No. 16 LSU Tigers survived in the 2014 Outback Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 21-14 affair that will surely go down as one of the bowl season's ugliest.
The Tigers held the ball for more than 35 minutes and were saved by sophomore running back Jeremy Hill, who rushed 28 times for 216 yards and two scores.
LSU overall managed 302 total yards and a 10-of-21 mark on third down, in large part because the Tigers had to start freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings in place of Zach Mettenberger, who went down for the year with a torn ACL in early December.
Jennings went 7-of-19 for 82 yards and an interception. He found the end zone once on the ground.
Iowa sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock had no answer for the LSU defense. He completed nine of his 22 passes for 102 yards and a pick before leaving the game with an injury. The Hawkeyes managed just 233 total yards and a 6-of-19 showing on third down.
It was apparent on the first drive of the game how LSU would attack the Iowa defense, which entered the game ranked No. 10 overall: protect Jennings through the ground game.
The Tigers did just that, rushing eight times for 77 yards before the freshman took it in himself from two yards out:
Anthony Jennings handed off 7 times on the drive then kept for the score, a 3-yard run off left tackle for a 7-0 #LSU lead, 10:59 1Q.— Scott Rabalais (@RabalaisAdv) January 1, 2014
From there, the two sides mostly exchanged punts until early in the second quarter, when Iowa junior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley committed a grievous error by muffing a punt. The ensuing result was LSU taking a 14-0 lead shortly after via a gritty rush by Hill for a 14-yard score:
Iowa showed signs of life in the middle of the third quarter by finally forcing Jennings into a mistake. Junior defensive back John Lowdermilk intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 71 yards before committing a boneheaded play, which Rob Metzger of WTOV sums up nicely:
Carrollton grad John Lowdermilk nearly had pick 6 for Iowa but dropped ball before endzone. Bailed out with Hawkeye rush TD 3 plays later— Rob Metzger (@RMetzgerWTOV9) January 1, 2014
It was as bad as it sounds:
As Metzger hints, Lowdermilk was absolved of his sin three plays later as junior running back Mark Weisman found the end zone from two yards out to make it 14-7 with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter.
Things picked up again with time winding down in the fourth. With Iowa freshman quarterback C.J. Beathard under center in place of the injured Rudock, the Hawkeyes gambled on fourth down from the LSU 16 while down by seven.
The gamble proved erroneous, as Beathard rolled out to his right and threw the ball right into the hands of LSU's senior safety, Craig Loston.
Then things got a bit hectic. Hill decided to take over the game on his own after the interception, recording runs of 28, 20 and 37, the last of which went for a touchdown to put LSU up 21-7 with 2:02 left in the game:
But Iowa responded in kind one play later. Senior receiver Jordan Cotton returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards. Two plays later, Beathard found Martin-Manley for a four-yard touchdown to move the Hawkeyes back within a score.
LSU's special teams then rose to the occasion after giving up the big play and recovered the onside kick, which allowed Jennings to kneel the ball to seal the win, 21-14.
Key Player Grades
Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU: A
It was widely accepted that Hill was the star of the show entering the contest. He was the main component that would help the Tigers overcome having to start a freshman under center.
Jeremy Hill is the first LSU player to eclipse 200 rushing yards in a game since Alley Broussard ran for 250 against Ole Miss in 2004.— LSU Football (@LSUfball) January 1, 2014
Hill did just that as he bruised his way to an impressive day against a stout defense. With LSU's offense looking anemic, his taking the game into his own hands late was beyond impressive—and perhaps a fitting way to end his collegiate career should he choose to go pro.
Odell Beckham, WR, LSU: B
In a defensive battle, junior star receiver Odell Beckham got lost in the shuffle. He brought in just two receptions for 35 yards, but he did manage to reel in the highlight of the game:
While a great play, Beckham disappointed overall.
Jake Rudock, QB, Iowa: C
Rudock was either going to make or break the game for the Hawkeyes, as the team was tasked with somehow scoring on a strong LSU defense.
The sophomore signal-caller put together a miserable outing before making his exit in the fourth quarter due to injury.
Beathard entered the game and fared a bit better. He put up a 4-of-7 mark for 55 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Anthony Jennings, QB, LSU: C
The spotlight was on Jennings in his first career start. He did about as expected for a young quarterback who had only attempted 10 passes entering the contest, which happened to be an important bowl game to close an underwhelming season.
So yes, taking it all into consideration, Jennings did just fine against an elite defense. He certainly did not propel the Tigers to victory, but he did not cost them the game, either.