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By JAMES ALLAN
TAMPA, Fla. — No. 20 Florida scored the game’s final 27 points to hand the 21st-ranked University of Iowa football team a 30-3 Outback Bowl loss Monday afternoon inside Raymond James Stadium.
The Hawkeyes finish the 2016 season with an 8-5 overall record.
“Today was a rough day for our football team,” said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. “Our team had a good month; they practiced and prepared well, and I’m not sure there is a thing I would go back and change. Ultimately, we didn’t play well enough to come up with a victory against a good Florida team. We certainly give them credit and salute their effort out there.
“It was a tough day for us and we’re disappointed to lose, but it doesn’t define this football team. This team has been great to work with and they have had a lot of good moments on and off the field. They’ve done an outstanding job, and that all starts with our seniors.”
The Gators out-gained Iowa, 331-226, in the game. Iowa had a 14-11 advantage in first downs and a 31:15-28:45 advantage in time of possession.
Iowa rushed for 171 yards with junior Akrum Wadley tallying his sixth 100-yard game. He finished with 115 yards on 22 attempts and had a team-best four catches for 21 yards. He and senior LeShun Daniels, Jr., are the first 1,000-yard rushing tandem in school history.
But the Hawkeyes’ passing attack never got on track against a Florida’s third-ranked passing defense. Senior C.J. Beathard went 7-of-23 for 55 yards and was intercepted three times.
Iowa and Florida both created turnovers — five were committed in the game. The Gators capitalized to the tune of 13 points. The Hawkeyes managed just three points off two Florida first-quarter interceptions.
After trailing 10-3 at the half, the Hawkeyes opened the second half with a 13-play, 63-yard drive with Wadley serving as a catalyst. The running back caught a screen pass for 18 yards on a third-and-15 and he had consecutive rushes of 5 and 11 yards into Florida territory.
Daniels, Jr., churned his way for a 10-yard gain to the 31 and Beathard connected with senior Riley McCarron for an 11-yard gain on second-and-8 to the 18. Iowa ran the ball three times in the red zone and couldn’t convert a third-and-4 from the 12.
The Hawkeyes came away with nothing to show for it when freshman Keith Duncan missed a 30-yard field goal attempt wide right. Florida drove and capitalized.
Starting from their own 20, the Gators covered 80 yards over 12 plays. Consecutive completions of 24 and 21 yards moved Florida to the Iowa 9. A touchdown was wiped off the board because of penalty, but it didn’t matter.
Quarterback Austin Appleby found DeAndre Goolsby, who was lost in coverage, wide open in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown. It was Appleby’s second touchdown pass; he finished 14-of-25 for 22 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
“To me the third quarter was a big swing,” said Ferentz. “We drove the ball and came out with no points and then they went the other way. That was kind of the story of the whole thing.”
Three Beathard interceptions led to 13 fourth-quarter points. Chauncey Gardner, Jr., — the game’s MVP — was the beneficiary of a tipped pass and he returned the first interception 58-yards for a pick-six, extending the Gator lead to 24-3 with 14:44 left.
Gardner’s second interception — a 30-yard return to the 7 — set up an Eddie Pineiro 25-yard field goal, and a third pick by linebacker Daniel McMillian led to the Gators’ final points — a 48-yard Pineiro field goal that extended the lead to 30-3.
Iowa’s defense set the tone early, forcing turnovers on the game’s first two possessions. On the third play of the game, sophomore Brandon Snyder intercepted Appleby following a pass break-up from sophomore Joshua Jackson.
The Hawkeyes intercepted Appleby a second time when sophomore Parker Hesse batted the ball at the line of scrimmage and senior Desmond King ran through Brandon Powell and came up with his 14th career pick while lying on his back. King finishes his career tied for the fourth-most interceptions in school history.
Iowa took over at the Florida 27, but the Hawkeyes could only muster a field goal — a 36-yarder from Duncan. Iowa led 3-0 with 8:56 left in the first quarter.
The Gators answered with an eight-play, 49-yard scoring drive. Appleby connected with Antonio Callaway for 34 yards on first down to set the tone. The Gators moved to the Iowa 26 before Pineiro made a 44-yard field goal to tie the game at three.
The game’s tone shifted in the second quarter. Iowa sustained a 10-play, 61-yard drive deep into Florida territory. Wadley ran for 27 yards into Gator territory and Beathard connected with senior George Kittle for an 18-yard gain to the 10.
On third-and-goal from the 7, Beathard scrambled for 6 yards, took on a hit from safety Marcell Harris, and nearly scored, but he was ruled down at the 1. Iowa went for it on fourth-and-goal, but Daniels was stuffed for a 2-yard loss for a turnover on downs.
The defense and field position game appeared to be on track for a 3-3 tie heading into the locker room, but a big play gave Florida the lead. On first-and-10 from the 15, Appleby connected with running back Mark Thompson for a screen pass in the flat — he took the reception 85 yards — the longest play in Outback Bowl history — for a touchdown, giving the Gators a 10-3 lead.
“In a nutshell, there were two big plays in the first half, two big series of events,” said Ferentz. “Us not converting the fourth-and-1 and then the big play they responded with. We have been an opportunistic team this year and to come up short in the red zone; those are little plays that we have to make if we’re going to have a chance to compete against a team like Florida.”
Iowa’s defense limited Florida to 331 yards in the game — 222 through the air and 109 on the ground. Junior Josey Jewell led the team with 10 tackles; he finishes the season as the Big Ten’s second-leading tackler.