Defense powers LSU’s old-school Outback Bowl win

TAMPA, Fla. — LSU won the old-fashioned way.

A new quarterback running a snazzy new scheme?

Don’t think so.

A pair of all-conference receivers known for mouth-gaping catches?

Move aside.

No. 14 LSU used a bruising running attack, a stiff defense and a remarkable punting day — what? — to batter Iowa in a 21-14 win in the Outback Bowl on Wednesday at sparsely filled, rain-soaked Raymond James Stadium.

The Tigers turned back the clock.

“I certainly did enjoy it like it was 20 years ago,” said a smiling LSU coach Les Miles, a former offensive lineman.

“Smash-mouth football,” receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said.

The featured act in this play — true freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings — never found the spotlight on this stage, throwing for just 82 yards.

He was trumped by running back Jeremy Hill, LSU’s big-play D and, in the end, a much-needed bowl victory.

LSU (10-3) avoided a third straight bowl loss and won 10 games for the fourth straight season, something that had never been done in school history.

The Tigers guaranteed a top-15 finish in the AP poll for the fourth straight season. That hasn’t happened since the early 1970s.

Most of all, LSU thumped a solid Big Ten program — it never trailed — just a day before a host of highly rated recruits plan to announce their college choices at the Under Armour All-America Game.

The Tigers did it just down the street. The Under Armour game will be played at St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field, a 25-minute ride from Raymond James Stadium.

“I look forward to (Thursday),” Miles said.

On Wednesday, the old-school coach got a spoonful of his favorite dishes: a pounding running game and swarming defense.

Hill finished with 216 rushing yards, the most by an LSU running back in nearly a decade, and the Tigers defense capped an inconsistent season with a rousing performance despite missing starting defensive tackle Ego Ferguson.

Ferguson did not travel with the team to Florida because of a medical condition, Miles said. It didn’t seem to matter.

Iowa’s scoring drives were 1 and 4 yards, the first set up by a 71-yard interception return and the last by a 96-yard kickoff return.

LSU’s defense forced a third-quarter field goal that Iowa missed and then, with his team leading 14-7 with five minutes left, safety Craig Loston picked off a fourth-and-1 pass with Iowa at the LSU 16.

“Those are game-changing plays,” said Jalen Mills, who started at safety opposite Loston. “Who knows what could have happened if they would have got it?”

The Hawkeyes, 8-4 and the runner-up in the Big Ten’s Legends Division, had 233 yards of offense, the fewest by an LSU opponent from a major conference in 17 months.

Iowa’s two quarterbacks threw a pair of interceptions and completed less than half of their passes, and the squad averaged just 2.1 yards a rush.

“Spectacular,” Miles said, describing the unit. “There was no question they were going to play like this.”

With a rookie backup quarterback under center and starter Zach Mettenberger sidelined with a knee injury, LSU scrapped its season-long balance on offense.

The Tigers opened the game with 12 straight runs and finished with 51. Jennings attempted 19 passes, completed just seven and was sacked four times.

The game resembled those Big 10-Southeastern Conference clashes of old — a low-scoring grudge match on a sloppy field, defenses that didn’t buckle much, offenses that worked for every inch.

A rarity in football’s new age, the game included 17 punts and just 535 yards of offense — combined. LSU punter Jamie Keehn’s 10 punts went for an average of 46.9 yards, and four times he pinned Iowa inside the 20.

The duel wasn’t over until fullback Connor Neighbors fell on an onside kick with 1:42 left.

The celebration then began. It was the quiet type.

LSU fans bought just 7,000 of the school’s allotted 12,000 tickets to the game. Raymond James Stadium was less than half-full, the entire upper deck nearly completely empty.

Those who did attend witnessed an LSU defense that had, arguably, its best outing of the season with two starters down — Ferguson and safety Corey Thompson.

Sure, the Tigers were facing a mediocre Big Ten offense. And, yes, Iowa lost starting quarterback Jake Rudock late in the third quarter.

But a defense that had a few blips this season shined for a final time. One of the reasons: LSU changed its defensive look, said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz.

“Their alignments were a little different than we had seen, than they had done the whole year,” Fiedorowicz said. “That makes it tough, especially when you gameplan.”

The sealing play came from a guy playing his final college game. Loston’s interception led to Hill’s game-clinching score, a rumbling 37-yard touchdown down the LSU sideline to make it 21-7.

After the play, Loston was seen on the sideline dancing while the LSU band played the popular tune “Talkin’ Out The Side Of Your Neck.” He raised his arms shoulder-height, lowered them and repeated the motion, performing the subtle jig always accompanied with the song.

Loston helped close out Win No. 44 for this senior group. They did it the old-fashioned way.

“They covered the pass. They covered the run,” Ferentz said. “They’re not a finesse outfit.”