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Outback Bowl Preview: No. 17 Florida vs. Iowa

THE DAILY IOWAN/MARGARET KISPERT

January 2nd: No. 17 Florida vs. Iowa 12:00 PM CT  ABC

The Gators and Hawkeyes will square off in the Outback Bowl for the third time in 13 years. The last meeting came in 2006 when then-Florida head coach Urban Meyer led his team to a 31-24 victory. While Iowa finished the season by reeling off three straight victories, two against ranked Michigan and Nebraska teams, Florida fell to in-state foe Florida State and Alabama in the SEC Championship Game by an average of 28 points.

After struggling offensively for a majority of the 2016 season, the Hawkeyes found their stride by outscoring its final two opponents 68-10. A 40-10 dismantling of rival Nebraska, where the Iowa offense put up 408 yards behind LeShun Daniels’ 158 rushing yards and two touchdowns, was a boost to an offense averaging 25.5 points per game.

While the Hawkeyes have looked better on the offensive side, senior quarterback C.J. Beathard will face one of the top defenses in the nation led by All-American cornerback Jalen Tabor.

The Gator defense does limp into Monday’s contest though after giving up an awful 42.5 ppg in its final two regular season contests. It’s also dealing with the departure of defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who filled the Temple head coaching vacancy, along with key injuries to Jarrad Davis (ankle), linebacker Daniel McMillian (shoulder) and safety Nick Washington (ankle) who are listed as questionable for the Outback Bowl.

The Gators, which allowed 17.9 ppg (10th in the nation) and 156.3 passing yards per game (third in the nation), go up against the Joe Moore Award winning Iowa offensive line that had to mix and match most of the season. Senior tackle Cole Croston, who has missed time with an ankle injury, is expected to play on Monday. If Iowa can control the line of scrimmage, the 1-2 punch of Daniels and Akrum Wadley could be what it needs to end a four-game bowl losing streak.

With much anticipation about how much success Iowa’s offense will have, Kirk Ferentz will hope that his stout Hawkeye defense will continue to cause problems for a Gator offense that has struggled to score points down the final stretch of the season.

After averaging only 15 ppg in its last five games, things won’t get any easier for Florida against a defense consisting of All-American Desmond King and Josey Jewell. So much will be riding on senior Austin Appleby’s play under center and how productive sophomore Jordan Scarlett can be on the ground. Scarlett leads the rush attack with 795 yards and six touchdowns.

If second-year Florida head coach Jim McElwain hopes to compete in this year’s bowl game, opposed to last season when the Gators were manhandled by Michigan in the Citrus Bowl 41-7, the defense has to keep the offense in the game. If the Hawkeye offense finds success early, it’s going to be hard for a struggling Gator offense to battle back.

Prediction: Iowa 24, Florida 16

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