It was an ugly win for a lot of reasons, but it was still a win. Funny how meaningless bowl games seem to a lot of people until they don't get the exact outcome they want, huh?
I mean don't get me wrong, this win doesn't really mean much other than something of a self-esteem boost for the offseason (although Thursday evening's events dampened that a bit). Still, it was nice to close things out with a win and halt LSU's recent postseason woes. On to 2014.
- We'll start out with the first drive of the game, an old-fashion piece of #MANBALL, downhill beauty. The right side of LSU's offensive line, for most of the game, was absolutely mauling Iowa, and Jeremy Hill was exploding into some big holes. It was sexy, is what it was.
- Trai Turner really is one of the best pulling guards in the business.
- Great blocking from Dillon Gordon and Logan Stokes at the tight end spots as well. An interesting part of LSU's gameplan was the use of them as H-back blockers in motion. Helped to outflank Iowa's defense on a couple of runs.
- On to the defense. They not only did their damnedest to shut out the Hawkeyes -- Iowa's two scores were set up by a turnover and a special-teams miscue -- they also put up a season-low in yardage allowed to an FCS-level opponent. The only game with a lower total than Iowa's 233 yards was Furman's 198.
- The major key to the gameplan wound up being Kwon Alexander, who spent a ton of time lined up in the slot. This was big because Iowa spent a lot of times trying to use their tight ends in that position. Alexander allowed for Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White to stay locked up on the Iowa wideouts. What's more, it allowed LSU to stay in a base defense for the run when Iowa tried to spread the field.
- It was no small task, either. Both of Iowa's tight ends will be playing on Sundays in the future.
- Can I just say that Jalen Mills' drive-extending personal foul on the first Iowa possession was beyond stupid? The receiver flopped, no question. But the ball was broken up and there was ZERO -- repeat, ZERO -- reason for Mills to even touch the guy.
- That said, I thought Mills made a nice transition to the safety spot. He could have a very bright future there. His versatile skillset fits the position well, and you can see that the rest of the team reacts to him, emotionally.
- Speaking of Robinson and White, they just did an outstanding job of blanketing the Iowa wideouts. The number of times Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard were forced to hold the ball was impressive.
- On White's interception, he was beat off of the line, but did a great job of making up ground. The ball was overthrown, but still credit to White for going up and making the play when he had the opportunity.
- What is it about Craig Loston and big interceptions near the goal line? Mississippi State last year, Texas A&M this year and again versus Iowa. Admittedly on a horrible, HORRIBLE throw by Beathard, across his body and late over the middle, on a rollout play. Overall, Loston played a pretty good game though, especially crashing in on the run like a fourth linebacker.
- Playcalling gripe -- LSU tried a number of inverted-veer zone-read type of plays, and it just never seemed to work against the speed of Iowa's linebackers. There just isn't that sideline, quick-step-speed guy on the roster right now, like there was when Michael Ford was in town. It might have been better to try them out of a jet-sweep read with Odell Beckham Jr.
- The field conditions affected this game a lot, with guys slipping and punts absolutely dying on the turf. The biggest area where it was noticed was in LSU's pass-rush. A few subtle moves by the Iowa QBs seemed to floor Tiger d-linemen a couple times. There were also a couple of backs and receivers slipping on their pass routes.
- Officiating gripes: too many to mention individually. There was the sideline interference call with no warning. I've literally never seen that happen before. There was a substitution call with LSU players very clearly on the sidelines. Frankly it just looked like a group that didn't know what they were doing or had no sense for the flow of the game. Players got chippy with very little warning. Nevermind the awful replay overturning of the fourth-quarter fumble. I'm not totally sure that it wasn't an incomplete pass, but given the ruling on the field there damn sure wasn't enough evidence to overturn it.
- Speaking of replays, was ESPN even aware that they could show them? I'm willing to bet that with the game running long, they were cut because God forbid we take time from the Rose Bowl.
- Special teams -- bully for Jamie Keehn, who had a Brad Wing-esque day. A 46-yard average, with four of 10 punts dropped inside of the 20. Two 50-plus yarders radically flipped field position. Were it not for some God-awful coverage on his very first punt to Kevonte Martin-Manley, the Hawkeyes would have finished with just a single yard on punt returns prior to the final punt's lateral-fest.
- And at least two more of Keehn's punts should have been downed inside the 10 by Jalen Collins and James Wright.
- Kickoff coverage was doing a solid job as well up until falling asleep after what looked like a game-icing touchdown. Debo Jones lost his lane and was blocked, allowing Jordan Cotton to spring lose into the open field. Rough day for Jones in coverage, as he badly missed Martin-Manley on his long return as well.
- ODB was back to his expletive-inducing ways on punt returns, fielding some very iffy balls in sloppy conditions. If he winds up in a cold-weather city in the NFL playing outdoors, he's really going to have to learn that a turnover in that situation can just be an absolute back-breaker.
- On Beckham's reverse pass -- kid has a pretty nice arm. But the playcall felt a bit forced and unnecessary, especially on second and five.
- Another thing I noticed on the defense was that there was a lot of attitude out there. You could really see that the players took the physical challenge of Iowa's offense to heart, and there weren't many missed tackles. Lamin Barrow, D.J. Welter, Alexander and all three of LSU's safeties were flying to the ball and really driving people backwards.
- Finally, on to Anthony Jennings. There's really no two ways of saying it, he just had a rough game. Sub-50 percent completion percentage at 4.3 yards per attempt, with one really bad interception. He simply missed on a lot of throws, especially down the field. If there's a silver lining, I don't think he made many bad decisions with those passes. He just missed. Where the decision-making came into question was in the pocket, where he just held the ball too long trying to force a throw on several occasions.
- Even on that interception, he made the right read and had Travis Dickson open on a dig route. He simply air-mailed the throw right to John Lowdermilk.
- Early on, I thought Cam Cameron's play-calling was doing a great job of easing Jennings in. A number of stick throws to Jarvis Landry. Some quick bootleg throws. A tailback screen on third-and-long. The kind of stuff that a smart coordinator does to get his quarterback in rhythm before trying to open things up. Conservative, yeah, but keep in mind that Iowa thrives on forcing third-and-long situations where they can drop into a zone defense and let the QB screw up.
In the second quarter, we saw Jennings try a few more things down the field, and once he started missing some very open big-play opportunities (including an easy touchdown to ODB on a post route), you could see him tense up. You could even see him vacillate between over- and under-throwing his deeper passes. Nothing very uncommon for a guy in his first start facing a very good defense in less-than-ideal circumstances. Still, there will be a lot to work on this spring, in what should be the best quarterback competition LSU's had in more than a decade.
- Charting the pressures Jennings faced, I feel even more comfortable in what I said in the comments of Poseur's postgame piece. Of the nine sacks or hurries that Iowa picked up, only one could truly be blamed on the O-line: a blitz from the Hawkeye's "psycho" front in the first quarter that was misdiagnosed and came in immediately. The remaining eight either featured Jennings holding the ball longer than four seconds, a huge quarterbacking no-no, or involved play-action bootleg plays. And the thing about bootleg plays is that they are a gamble on an unblocked backside defender biting on the fake. If he doesn't, and plays his containment responsibility, the quarterback will be rolling right into him, and that happened twice, along with a third in which Neighbors waggled in as a blocker, but missed his man.
Passing accuracy and a sense of when to get rid of the ball, or bail on the pocket and try to run. Cameron, perhaps, could have prodded Jennings more in that direction with some traditional zone-reads or more spread-option looks, but that might have been more of a change to the offense than he wanted to implement. Plus, to be honest, with only Stephen Rivers in reserve, he simply might have wanted to avoid putting Jennings at risk.
- The final time management sequence. I think it's pretty clear that Les Miles wanted to try and kneel off as much clock as possible. When fourth down came up, Jennings immediately lined the team up for a final knee, unprompted, while the sideline was waiting for more time to run off and call timeout to set up the final punt. Could they have tried the ol' run around and try to run those final seconds and only risk a safety? Perhaps, but personally I've always found those risky. Could he have tried to run it three more times, get that one final first down and end the game that way? Also a valid strategy. But I don't think there's any fault in running it down to the single digits and trying to put things away, either. Regardless, it was an ultimately meaningless sequence.
- Speaking of quarterbacks, what will my wife's final image of Zach Mettenberger be, might you ask?
- Finally, how about Jeremy Hill, huh? Twenty-eight manly carries for 216 MANSOME yards, putting him over 1,400 for the season, the best mark of any back in the Miles Era. His feet simply never stopped moving and he made Iowa work for every tackle, and pay for every miss. And make no mistake -- the Hawkeye linebackers were every bit as impressive as billed. Hill was simply that damn good. Should that be the last time we watch him play, Hill left one hell of an example for Leonard Fournette to follow.
- In closing, I still feel the same way I did a few days ago. This win is nice. I'm happy that the seniors and the other guys leaving the program got to go out on a nice note. I'm really happy I got to see that performance out of Jeremy Hill. But in the grand scheme of things, I would have preferred a better day on Thursday on the recruiting front.
Still, there's a nice final image of this team for the offseason, and a little bit of a barometer for what LSU has to work on going forward. A fourth consecutive 10 win season shows that even in a rebuilding year, LSU can still churn out quality. Jennings certainly has a way to go, but I read no more into that bowl game (again, a good defense in rainy, adverse conditions) than I did the final minutes of the Arkansas game. He's a young, talented quarterback and we'll have to see how he grows. It was much, much more encouraging to see the defense stand up the way it did, and for younger guys like Mills, Alexander and the freshmen corners to be the ones leading the charge. We have 239 more days until the next LSU football game, and there will almost certainly be a lot of ups and downs between now and then. Let's ride them out together and do what we always try to do. Have a great time.