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Nate Stanley Leads Iowa to Holiday Bowl Win over USC After Kedon Slovis' Injury

Megan ArmstrongAnalyst IIIDecember 28, 2019

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 27:  Nate Stanley #4 of the Iowa Hawkeyes motions to the defense of the USC Trojans during the first half of the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium on December 27, 2019 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes punctuated their seventh straight winning season with a 49-24 Holiday Bowl victory over the No. 22 USC Trojans at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego on Friday night.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair until Iowa went up 28-14 with 1:18 left in the second quarter when senior quarterback Nate Stanley hit receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a 12-yard touchdown. Iowa hit a field goal before heading to the locker room to cut the deficit to 11.

The Trojans appeared to shift momentum to begin the second half when running back Stephen Carr ran in a two-yard score to help make it 28-24. USC then recovered the ensuing onside kick, but freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis exited with what Fox Sports 1's Jenny Taft reported to be shoulder and elbow sprains (h/t The Athletic's Antonio Morales).

Iowa ran away with the game from there, forcing three fumbles and returning an interception for a touchdown.

Each squad entered Friday night on a three-game winning streak. The Hawkeyes owned the most impressive win, though, as they upset a then-undefeated Minnesota 23-19 on Nov. 16. Iowa improved to 10-3 Friday, marking the program's first campaign with double-digit wins since 2015, while USC dropped to 8-5.

                     

Notable Performances

Iowa 

QB Nate Stanley: 213 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT

RB Tyler Goodson: 18 carries, 48 yards, 1 TD

WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette: 2 catches, 46 yards, 1 TD

WR Brandon Smith: 4 catches, 32 yards, 1 TD

          

USC 

QB Kedon Slovis: 260 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT

QB Matt Fink: 74 yards

RB Vavae Malepeai: 8 carries, 37 yards; 4 catches, 11 yards, 1 TD

RB Stephen Carr: 5 carries, 24 yards, 1 TD

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: 9 catches, 163 yards

WR Michael Pittman Jr.: 6 catches, 53 yards

         

Nate Stanley Goes Out on Top

Stanley's performance bolstered his standing in Hawkeyes history. According to Taft, Stanley has the second-most passing yards (8,297) and second-most wins (27) of any Iowa quarterback:

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

"The last four years have been the best four years of my life." Nate Stanley talks with @JennyTaft after @HawkeyeFootball's Holiday Bowl victory. https://t.co/3MbeM0HSq7

Against USC, Stanley took full advantage of an 84th-ranked defensive unit:

FOX College Football @CFBONFOX

Nate Stanley does it all 🔥 @HawkeyeFootball extends their lead 💪 https://t.co/iyI3K8fL0n

Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks

Nate Stanley looks like Carson Wentz vs this USC defense. Unreal.

Max Meyer @TheMaxMeyer

Whoever the Iowa OC is clearly did his homework. The Hawkeyes are burning the USC defense on misdirection plays and runs to the edge.

Stanley got help from the running game and special teams. Smith-Marsette scored on a six-yard run and 98-yard kickoff return in addition to his 12-yard catch. Running backs Goodson and Tyrone Tracy Jr. each recorded a rushing touchdown too.

Plenty of people were pumped by the Hawkeyes' performance, including San Francisco 49ers tight end and Iowa alumnus George Kittle as well as PGA golfer Zach Johnson:

George Kittle @gkittle46

Let’s goooo @HawkeyeFootball !!!!

Zach Johnson @ZachJohnsonPGA

I love Nate Stanley...winner.

But the lasting story will be how this outing punctuated Stanley's collegiate career. He improved to 3-0 in bowl games to go along with 3-0 records against Iowa State, Minnesota and Nebraska. 

            

USC Comeback Derailed by Slovis' Injury

The Trojans were surging when Slovis suffered a sprained shoulder and elbow. USC had just scored a touchdown to cut Iowa's lead to 28-24 at the 13:29 mark in the third quarter. 

Matt Fink replaced Slovis, who exited with 260 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 22-of-30 passing and did not return:

Keely Eure @keelyismyname

Slovis is currently sitting up in the tent but is not moving his right arm or shoulder. Michael Pittman has gone in and out of the tent to try to cheer up his quarterback. https://t.co/hjOXW9MPTm

USC's offense stalled for the rest of the night, as its remaining drives resulted in three fumbles, two punts, one missed field goal and one pick-six. That might have had more to do with Iowa's defense than Fink, though. The redshirt junior had shown he could be effective in previous appearances this season with 574 yards, four touchdowns and four picks to go with a 65.7 completion percentage.

Fink did not do himself any favors in the Holiday Bowl:

Kyle Bonagura @BonaguraESPN

Not a great start to Matt Fink's grad-transfer audition.

The drop-off from Slovis to Fink was clear:

Reign of Troy @ReignofTroy

USC's last three drives: 4 plays, 4 yards 4 plays, 32 yards 3 plays, 1 yard

Reign of Troy @ReignofTroy

Kedon Slovis may be injured, but leaving the game with a passer rating of 168.1 *should* secure him #USC's record for highest passer rating in a season. He came in with a rating of 167.6, which he needed to maintain to stay ahead of Cody Kessler.

That said, this loss falls more squarely on the USC defense. The Hawkeyes entered this matchup with three touchdown drives exceeding six minutes in their previous 12 games combined and put together three such drives against the Trojans.

RedditCFB @RedditCFB

After USC turns it over on their own 6, Iowa scores a TD to go up 42 to 24. It's only the 2nd time Iowa has put up 40+ this year (scored 48 vs Middle Tennessee). 12:52 left in the game. #HolidayBowl

The faint silver lining for USC is that Slovis will return next season. However, the Trojans will lose Pittman and could lose several more key offensive players to the 2020 NFL draft. What's more, 247Sports has USC's 2020 recruiting class ranked 78th in the FBS and last in the Pac-12.