Iowa covers for John Lowdermilk, can’t cover LSU’s Jeremy Hill

TAMPA, Fla. — John Lowdermilk could laugh about it in the postgame. Although he did turn a little red talking about what basically was a football brush with disaster.

Iowa was down 14-0 on the third quarter and taking on water. The Hawkeyes offense couldn’t budge LSU off the line of scrimmage and found nothing through the air. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz leaned heavily on the defense all day during Wednesday’s Outback Bowl.

LSU forced Ferentz out of his comfort zone. He went for it on two fourth downs and came up empty. Iowa ran its first fake punt since at least 2001 and came up a yard short.

Late in the third quarter, LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings overthrew tight end Travis Dickson. Lowdermilk picked it off and followed his blocking up the Iowa sideline. It looked like a 72-yard pick-6 for the junior, but no.

The play was under review. Lowdermilk let go of the ball before he crossed the goal line. He lived to tell about it because Iowa retained possession. Running back Mark Weisman scored on a 2-yard run, and Iowa was still in it, down 14-7 with 5:52 left in the third quarter.

“I wasn’t even thinking,” said Lowdermilk, who said he could already hear his dad, Kirk, a former NFL offensive lineman watching the game in Lowdermilk’s hometown, Carrolltown, Ohio. “I thought I was in the end zone. It was just a stupid, bonehead play on my part.”

Lowdermilk lived through that learning experience. The Iowa defense almost helped the Hawkeyes live through the LSU experience.

The Tigers started with a burst on running back Jeremy Hill’s 42-yard run on the game’s first play.

The Tigers rushed on all eight plays of the drive — all but two using two tight ends and a fullback — that quarterback Anthony Jennings finished with a 2-yard run. For an Iowa team that prides itself on stopping the run, this was an ominous tone.

“That’s who they are,” Ferentz said when asked if the LSU power running game was the difference. “They’re not a finesse team at all. They have several schemes, and they run them well. They’re a well-conceived offense.”

The Tigers’ game plan protected Jennings, who was more caretaker than playmaker. LSU ran a lot of two tight end sets with a fullback. Running back Jeremy Hill was the flash point for all of this, winning game MVP with a 216-yard, two-touchdown performance. It was the first time Iowa allowed a 200-yard performance by a back since Michigan State’s T.J. Duckett had 248 in 2000.

“They’re here for a reason,” Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “They play against great competition in the SEC. Hill is a good back, he’s going to do great things.”

Iowa’s defense didn’t deal well with the power running game, but Iowa’s offense didn’t help it much. Iowa was held to a season-low 233 yards total offense. The Hawkeyes converted just six third downs.

By the time Hill headlocked the Hawkeyes in the fourth quarter, putting LSU up 21-7 on a 38-yard touchdown run with 2:02 left, Iowa’s defense was out of punches and answers. It pulled Iowa as far as it could. It was out of gas, and the Hawkeyes were out of time.