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The Morning After: USC and the 2019 Season

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Big 10 > Pac 12; Iowa 49-USC 24

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Iowa
Nate Stanley was a great field general in Iowa’s big bowl victory.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What an incredibly fun blowout of Pac-12 golden child USC. I could go on and on for thousands of words to describe how I feel and the play by play of the game, but if you’re reading this, you watched the game (and probably recorded it) and there is no need for all the minutiae.

Iowa scored an incredible 49 points to defeat the Trojans. The game was an offensive explosion that wasn’t really in hand until a snap over the head of USC backup quarterback Matt Fink in the fourth quarter. Up until that point, and more specifically, until starting quarterback Kedon Slovis was hurt, it just felt like the team with the ball last would probably win the game. USC has an incredible offense and a porous defense.

On a USC drive right after the Trojans recovered an onside kick, A.J. Epenesa, in probably his last game in a Hawkeye uniform, ripped around the tackle to strip the ball from Slovis and in the process jacked up his shoulder. At that point, the game was probably over but as we were informed by USC TV (I mean FS1), Fink threw for 351 yards and three touchdowns to lead USC to victory over #11 Utah earlier in the season. Fortunately for Iowa, Fink is no Slovis and the outcome was no longer in doubt.

At the end of the day, the vaunted Iowa defense only allowed 24 points to USC after giving up 14 points in the first two drives of the day. After that point, and specifically after the injury to Slovis, Iowa was able to contain USC and control the game. While USC was able to throw for 334 yards, they were held to just 22 yards on the ground.

Once the Trojans weren’t able to capitalize on the onside kick recovery right after they scored a touchdown to cut the score to 28-24 and with Slovis going down with the shoulder injury, it was apparent that Iowa was going to win the game in which they were honoring Hayden Fry and Bump Elliott.

Earlier in the season there was a lot of hand-wringing that Epenesa wasn’t getting very many sacks. Well, the season is over and with two and a half sacks against USC, Epenesa ended up with 11.5 on the year. He joins Matt Roth as the only other player to have back-to-back seasons of at least ten sacks under Coach Ferentz. For his efforts in the game, Epenesa was awarded the defensive player of the game honor.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Iowa
A.J. Epenesa is the defensive player of the game. One more year, one more year!
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I am awarding linebacker Nick Niemann the runner-up defensive player award for his work which included two tackles, a sack, and a pick six to finish the scoring for Iowa. Other leading tacklers for Iowa included Jack Koerner with eight, Matt Hankins and Kristian Welch with seven, Dane Belton with six, and Michael Ojemudia with five. Ojemudia almost had a pick six of his own on the first USC drive that could have really crushed the spirit of the Trojans.

On offense, senior Nate Stanley played perhaps the best game of his career. While his numbers weren’t gaudy, they were efficient. Stanley finished his career going 18-27 for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He missed a couple throws late in the game that would have made his efficiency look even better.

Give credit to offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz as he called a tremendous game. Much maligned over the course of the season, and many times justifyably so, Ferentz called all the right plays against the USC defense. Even when the lead increased to two scores, the conservative nature that we saw over the course of the year didn’t materialize and Iowa kept putting pressure on USC. Hopefully this is another step in Ferentz’s education and the offense is a little more open next season.

The offensive player of the game was Ihmir Smith-Marsette who scored three touchdowns on the day. He caught two balls for 46 yards and a touchdown and ran twice for 15 yards and a touchdown. His biggest play was a 98 yard kickoff return after USC had scored to tie the game up at 14-14.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Southern California vs Iowa
ISM picks up the offensive player of the game award for his three touchdown effort.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

All-American kicker Keith Duncan didn’t get any opportunities to kick a field goal but he did have seven extra points and ended the season with 119 points, one behind the Hawkeye record held by Shonn Greene and Nate Kaeding.

Stanley became the second Hawkeye quarterback to win three bowl games (Ricky Stanzi) and ended his career with the second most wins with 27 (tied with Stanzi behind Chuck Long’s 35) as a QB and the second most yards thrown with 8,515 (Chuck Long 10,461). Most importantly, Stanley never lost as a starter in a bowl game, or to Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa State! Not to mention that Stanley had an eight yard quarterback sneak. He will be missed.

I was reading Twitter as the game was going and it’s interesting to see how the USC crowd still believes that USC lost because of their coaching staff rather than the fact that Iowa has a damn good team. Well they can kiss off just like the fans of LSU, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, and many others before them.

Thoughts

  • Iowa finished the season 10-3 on the season and will be ranked in the top 15 in the country. Close losses to Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin will haunt many of us to thinking about what could have been but ultimately I’m very happy with the season and a win against a USC team that many of the “experts” thought was the better team was fulfilling.
  • USC quarterback Kedon Slovis is very impressive. With the ability of USC to get top ranked wide receivers, he should have a pretty impressive next couple of seasons.
  • Iowa has some quality skill position players as well. With all of them returning next season, if Iowa can find a young quarterback to get them the ball, the Ferentz’s may have some interesting options of opening up games available to them.
  • Keith Duncan couldn’t get one field goal attempt?
  • Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta is going to be special.
  • Iowa won so it’s not really sour grapes, but the referees weren’t very impressive in the least.
  • Bringing the wave to the game after the first quarter was a great moment from the Holiday Bowl committee.
  • Gus Johnson could make a quilting competition sound exciting.
  • Postgame, FS1 announcer Reggie Bush said it was bad coaching and would not give any props to Iowa. Between his brooding and saying “we” about USC is a reason why you shouldn’t have former players do the game for their old teams.
  • I didn’t need to see a political ad during the game (Joe Biden).
  • The emotion of Kirk Ferentz after the game talking about Hayden Fry was real and why Iowa football is what it is.
  • I love everything about being a Hawkeye.
  • That’s a wrap on 2019. It was fun working through the season with all of you and can’t wait to start it all over again next August.