College Football

Outback Bowl to be defensive showdown between Fla., Iowa

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This story was compiled and written by University of Connecticut journalism students Brandon Carney and Brandon Martinez, with information and statistics provided by ESPN, Fox Sports, Bleacher Report, the SEC football website, and the Florida Gators football website.

A defensive showdown is brewing in Tampa, FL, as the No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes and No. 20 Florida Gators will face off in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium.

These two schools have faced off only three times before, with two of the matchups occurring in previous Outback Bowls and the third occurring in the 1983 Gator Bowl. SEC power Florida comes into this game with a 2-1 all-time record against the Big 10 Hawkeyes.

Everything points to this being a low-scoring affair when these teams kick off at 1 p.m. on ABC. Of the 128 teams in the FBS, both Iowa and Florida’s offenses rank outside the top 70 in points per game, while both their defenses rank inside the top 10 in points allowed per game.

The Gators (8-4, 6-3) have played in the Outback Bowl four times, two of those times against the Hawkeyes. The Gators, who are 2-2 in the Outback Bowl, will look to remain perfect against Iowa in this bowl, as they are 2-0 against the Hawkeyes (8-4, 6-3). This will be the Gators’ 44th bowl appearance.

The Gators are looking to bounce back in more ways than one when they take on the Hawkeyes. The Gators, who finished first in the SEC East, are coming off a two game losing streak, where they were out played by the number one ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, by a score of 54-16, and the tenth ranked Arkansas Razorbacks, 31-13. Florida is also looking to avenge their 41-7 Citrus Bowl loss last year at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines.

Florida will be relying heavily on their defense in this bowl game, as they have one of the best defenses in the nation. The Gators’ defense ranks sixth in the nation, as they allow only 282 yards a game and 18 points a game. They have also recorded 30 sacks, 13 interceptions, three of which went for touchdowns, and eight fumble recoveries.

Florida’s strong defensive play can be credited to their junior defensive back, Jalen “Teez” Tabor. Tabor leads the Florida defense with four interceptions and is one of the top ten tacklers on their team, with 32 total tackles. Tabor is one of the top cornerbacks in the nation and is projected to be the second cornerback taken when he enters the NFL Draft next year.

The Gators defense has seen its share of injuries, especially in the last two games, but they will see a few of their starters coming back for the Outback Bowl. Senior linebacker Jarrad Davis missed three games prior to the Alabama game and reinjured his ankle against the Crimson Tide. Davis said that he does expect to be back and ready to play against Iowa.

The Gators were also without starting defensive backs Duke Dawson and Nick Washington against Alabama, but the team expects them to return against Iowa.

Sophomore offensive lineman Kavaris Harkless said that even though the team has been hit by the injury bug, he still believes that the Gators are still a force to be reckoned with.

“Injuries or not, we are still a good team,” Harkless said according to the Florida Gators’ team website. “We’re a good team right now.”

As for Iowa, defense is their biggest strength as well. It led them to an 8-4 record on the season and a 6-3 record in Big 10 Conference play, good for third place in the Big 10 West Division and netting them a bowl appearance for the fourth consecutive season.

Iowa, who will enter this game as two and a half point underdogs, has allowed just 17.9 points per game this season, tying them with the opposing Gators for 10th fewest in the FBS. They’re also 24th in the FBS in yards allowed per game, allowing just 353.

As for their offense, the Hawkeyes are 77th in the nation in terms of points with just 26.8 per game, but they do boast a solid run game led by the running back duo of junior Akrum Wadley and senior LeShun Daniels Jr.

Wadley and Daniels have each scored 10 touchdowns this season and have combined for nearly 2,000 yards with Wadley amassing 966 and Daniels totaling 1,013.

As one of the centerpieces of the offense, Daniels is ready for the challenge of playing with so many eyes on him as Iowa heads toward this January bowl game.

“You know that January bowls are always big-time bowl games and you know you’re always gonna’ be playing against a good opponent and everybody’s gonna be watching,” Daniels said.

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz echoed Daniels’ comments about Florida being a good opponent but said his team’s goal all season has been to win a bowl game.

“One of our preseason goals this year was not only to play in a bowl game but win a bowl game. That’s been on our wall for quite a while. Having a chance to play in this game gives us a great opportunity for that but also presents a tremendous challenge,” Ferentz said.

That goal likely stems from Iowa’s lack of success in bowl games in recent years. The Hawkeyes have not won a bowl game since 2010 despite having four bowl appearances since then, not including the upcoming Outback Bowl.

Ferentz, who has been coaching at Iowa since 1999, has led the Hawkeyes to 13 bowl games in total and holds a 6-7 record. This will be Iowa’s fifth appearance in the Outback Bowl and they are 2-2 in their previous four appearances.

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