Dec. 7, 2003
No. 13 Iowa will face off against 17th-ranked Florida in the 2004 Outback Bowl, Thursday, Jan. 1, in Tampa Bay, FL. The 10 a.m. CST match-up was announced Sunday by bowl officials.
“Obviously, we’re very excited about the announcement. We’re all glad to hear the news and I’m sure our players will be pleased about that,” said Coach Kirk Ferentz. “We’re very honored to be going. I just think it’s a great compliment for our players to be going to back-to-back January bowls.”
The Hawkeyes have played in bowl games for the last two years, and the Iowa-Florida combination will be a re-match of the 1983 Gator Bowl, which the Gators won 14-6. However, history and a near home field advantage don’t bother Ferentz.
“We’ve tried that before,” said Ferentz, referring to the 2001 Alamo Bowl, in which Iowa defeated Texas Tech 19-16 in San Antonio. “Hopefully, our folks will be able to grab as many seats outside our sections quickly. I’m hoping we can still grab some tickets, because I know the Florida Gator fans have done a good job of that this week.”
“Obviously, we’re very excited about the announcement. We’re all glad to hear the news and I’m sure our players will be pleased about that. We’re very honored to be going. I just think it’s a great compliment for our players to be going to back-to-back January bowls.”
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz
The Gators were invited to the bowl last Wednesday, while the Hawkeyes waited in limbo until the BCS finalized plans on Sunday. Roughly 15,000 tickets were allotted to Iowa fans in the 65,657-person capacity Raymond James Stadium. Those seats not similarly allotted to Florida fans are up for grabs; however, the Outback Bowl has sold-out in advance the last three years.
Ferentz, who has never coached a game inside the stadium, said he watched No. 9 Florida State defeat the Gators 38-34 on Nov. 29, and had one word to describe them: “good”.
“They have a lot of great players, a great traditional program,” he said. “It’s going to be a great challenge, at a great location and against a great opponent. What else could you ask for?”
Ferentz has personal knowledge of Florida quarterback Chris Leak, a freshman who led his team with a 60.2 percent completion rate for 2,167 yards on the season and a 180.6 average. He tried to recruit the standout last year.
“I know the quarterback is extremely good,” said Ferentz. “Chris Leak is a guy we know an awful lot about. He’s stepped up and really done a fine job. He was extremely poised as a high school player and he was very poised last week on television.
“They have a lot of great players on both sides of the ball. No surprise. We’ve been recruiting in Florida since I got here, and they just get great players each and every year. I know they’re going to be a very talented team and a great challenge for us.”
The Hawkeyes’ star running back Fred Russell said he remembered Leak from his visit to Iowa City last December. But he was most concerned about the entire team, which defeated Capital One Bowl participant Georgia and second-rated LSU, which will play in the Nokia Sugar Bowl for the national championship, Jan. 4.
“If you’re playing a team that beat LSU, which is now playing for the national title, we better be ready to bring our A-game,” Russell said. “It’s going to be a tough game for us.”
Offensive linesman and team captain Robert Gallery, who will be heading to Florida this week to be honored at the Home Depot Awards Show on Thursday, also didn’t know specifics.
“I don’t know a lot about the team, but we’re going to find out soon,” he said. “They’re a great team. Any team at this caliber of bowl is going to be good, so it’s going to be a big challenge and we have to be prepared to go in there.”
The Outback Bowl will be Gallery’s and Russell’s final game as collegiate athletes, as they prepare to head into the NFL draft next Spring.
Both players, though, expressed concerns about preparations. The team will miss out on Christmas with their families, as they travel to Tampa on Dec. 24. But the schedule was designed to avoid the mistakes made last year before Iowa lost to USC in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
“If you’re playing a team that beat LSU, which is now playing for the national title, we better be ready to bring our A-game. It’s going to be a tough game for us.”
Running back Fred Russell
“Last year, we scheduled it where our guys had the opportunity to go home for Christmas, and after reviewing that, I just thought it was disruptive to our focus,” Ferentz said. “I think we’re all in agreement on how we want to approach it.
“We’ll recruit hard this week, we’ll recruit a little bit next week and then pull them in and start getting ready for the bowl game. As soon as finals are over, we’re going to be getting ready and hopefully do a good job that way.”
“Things didn’t work out (last year), so we obviously did something wrong,” Gallery said. “We have to stay focused, and I think we had a longer break last year, so we have to stay focused and be ready to go this year.”
At this time last year, Russell was nursing a broken shoulder and was unable to fully participate in the Orange Bowl, but he echoed Gallery’s comments.
“Attitude-wise, we’re real confident with the plan coach has got for us,” he said. “We just want to be physically and mentally ready for this game because of what happened to us last year.”
Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com