The Iowa Hawkeyes took to San Diego to face the USC Trojans in the Holiday Bowl and came out victorious, 49-24. The score we all expected, right? This is Iowa’s third straight bowl win, and ends Iowa’s season with a 10-3 record.
This win was for Hayden Fry. The bowl was a favorite of the legendary head coach, who passed away December 17, and led the Hawkeyes to the Holiday Bowl three times in his tenure and is also a member of the Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame. You have to imagine he’s smiling from up above about this one.
Tyler Goodson picked up right where he left off before his early exit against Nebraska. The true freshman tore it up both in the rushing and receiving game, tallying 48 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Nate Stanley played perhaps the game of his life, going an efficient 18-27 for 213 yards and two touchdowns and giving the offense one of its best games of the season. But the real star of the show was Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who found the end zone three times in the second quarter, on a rushing touchdown, a kickoff return and a pass reception, the first Big Ten player to do so since Derrick Williams for Penn State in 2008.
And defensively, AJ Epenesa continued his hot play and was the stud of the night, getting constant pressure on both USC quarterbacks and tallying 2.5 sacks. Nick Niemann was the other star, getting an interception and logging two tackles, a sack and an interception. Iowa’s offense was extremely efficient, and it was also helped by the fact that the Hawks won the turnover game, 3-0.
Iowa received the ball to open the game, and it looked like it might be a three and out before Brandon Smith, finally returning from injury, converted on 3rd and 9.
After that first set of downs, Iowa moved down the field quickly, getting a solid combination of running and pass catching from Goodson, until Stanley on a play action play, had the ball stripped for a nine yard loss. But he redeemed himself on the next play, finding Nico Ragaini for a 34 yard completion, and one play later, Tyrone Tracy found paydirt on a beautifully executed reverse.
USC’s first offensive drive was eerily similar to Iowa’s. Facing an early 3rd and long, quarterback Kedon Slovis found his man for a big third down conversion, and from there moved down the field through the air to tie the game.
Third down was magic once again on Iowa’s second drive. USC missed a tackle on Mekhi Sargent, who was able to convert a third and long for a new set of downs. Iowa quick found its way to the redzone again, and this time reversed to Ihmir Smith-Marsette for another touchdown.
AJ Epenesa managed to find Slovis on the next drive and it seemed like the drive might be over, but USC found its own second third down conversion thanks to an Iowa missed tackle this time, and found the end zone a few plays later.
Just when the game seemed like it couldn’t get more exciting, ISM decided to return the next kickoff for 98 yards and a touchdown.
SMITH MARSETTE NINETY. EIGHT. YARDS. TO. DA. HOUSE. pic.twitter.com/BqDlF3h9vO— Hayden! (@HeavensFX) December 28, 2019
INJECT IT STRAIGHT INTO MY VEINS.
Iowa managed a stop, and ISM found the end zone for the third time IN THE SECOND QUARTER ALONE on a screen pass from Stanley on the next offensive drive. USC did its darnedest to find the end zone and quickly moved down the field to end the half but had to settle for a field goal as time expired, making the halftime score 28-17.
USC received the ball to start the second half, and Slovis wasted no time going deep for a 55 yard completion. Cedric Lattimore was also called for rushing the passer on the same play, and suddenly it was first and goal for USC three plays into the half. One play later, USC found the end zone in the span of a minute and a half.
To prevent another return TD, Clay Helton went for an onside kick and...got the ball back.
But Slovis, who got decked on the previous drive, got pressured by AJ Epenesa who hit him hard in the right arm, sending backup QB Matt Fink to the game. Two plays later, Niemann made himself known again, sacking Fink and ending USC’s drive. Fink never got settled, and Slovis never returned to the game.
Sam LaPorta decided he wanted to get in on the fun in Iowa’s next drive, making a brilliant catch on third and 11 before Stanley found ISM again for a big gain. The Iowa run game took things from there, with help from Sneaky Stanley. While His Sneakiness couldn’t find the end zone, Goodson could, and Iowa went up 35-24. The teams traded punts from there, until USC had a high snap, Fink became a deer-in-headlights, and Kristian Welch recovered the fumble, giving the Hawks a 1st and goal on the 5. Stanley found the end zone again, and it was 42-24 with over 12 minutes left in the game.
Ballgame. It was a matter of technicalities from there until Niemann put the exclamation point on the game with a pick-six.
This was fun. It was a frustrating season at times, but overall, a fun one. Let’s just leave it at that for now.