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2019 Holiday Bowl Preview: Iowa vs USC

SeaWorld is about to sell out of Busch Light

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 07 Rutgers at Iowa Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well hello everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying the holidays. Speaking of which, Iowa is about to play in their fourth Holiday Bowl. This will be the first one since I was in diapers; the last time Iowa was here in 1991 they played Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer and his BYU Cougs to a 13-13 tie. Personally I’m a fan of this game. For an entire generation of fans it’s a new destination, played against a quality opponent, and for a chance to end the season with double-digit wins.

The Teams

If you’re reading my preview, you’re probably familiar with the Hawkeyes. Iowa (9-3) finished the regular season 3rd in the West division, with their losses all coming against ranked teams by a combined 14 points. Their best win was over an 8th ranked, undefeated Minnesota (still weird to say). Iowa has made a living on defense all year long, recording two shutouts in conference play and only allowing their opponents to score more than 20 points once (twice, if you hold the pick-6 Stanley threw to Nebraska against the defense).

The Hawkeyes will be honoring Bump Elliott with a small helmet decal, and Hayden Fry by removing the Tiger Hawk logos from the helmet (This was how Fry traditionally honored people while he was coach.)

USC (8-4) finished second in the Pac 12 South, with three of their losses coming from ranked teams. The Trojans last faced Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl, where Pete Carroll, Troy Polamalu, and Carson Palmer beat Iowa 38-17. I, personally, have been holding a grudge against USC for all these years and would love to see this decade end in sweet, sweet revenge.

When USC has the ball

The Trojans brought in former Texas Tech QB and Mike Leach disciple Graham Harrell this year to be the offensive coordinator, and his air raid offense will be unlike anything Iowa has faced all year. Iowa’s pass defense has been solid this season, but they have given up serious yards to teams like Iowa State and Minnesota who anchor their offense with a small army of talented receivers. Michael Pittman Jr, Tyler Vaughns, and Amon-Ra St. Brown (who I will hereby nicknaming the Sun God) will be as good a group as Iowa has faced all year.

Iowa’s secondary, anchored by Geno Stone and Michael Ojemudia, will have their work cut out for them, and I think the defensive line will need to play their best game all year. I expect A.J. Epenesa to be eating a lot of double and triple teams, so guys like Chauncey Golston and Cedrick Lattimore should have their chances. If Iowa can keep pressure on Kedon Slovis and limit the downfield shots, the secondary will be able to keep everything in front of them and “bend, don’t break” will work just fine. Expect a lot of yards, but hopefully not a lot of points.

When Iowa has the ball

Iowa’s offense has had more than its share of struggles this season, but statistically USC has one of the worst defenses Iowa has faced all year. With all the extra time he’s had to prepare a game plan, the bar will be set pretty high for Brian Ferentz’s offense.

This will be Nate Stanley’s swan song at Iowa, and he’ll be facing a defense that’s giving up 249 passing yards per game. The Trojans have a pretty good pash rush, but the secondary has been porous and vulnerable. Iowa’s pass protection has been disterous at times this year, so if Stanley is going to have the big game he’s capable of the offensive line will need to give him time.

Iowa hasn’t been able to lean on its running game as much as they have in past years. The run blocking has been below average at best, and it’s only translated into about 4 yards per carry. However, they’ll be going against a USC rushing defense that’s given up 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. Tyler Goodson should be able to make a few big plays and help keep the ball out of USC’s hands.

A lot is going to depend on how well the offensive line plays. If they play as poorly as they did against Michigan it’s going to be a long day, but if they do their job and have one of their better games the offensive playmakers should be able to keep pace with USC’s passing attack.

The Verdict

Iowa never seems to play well when they travel west of the central time zone, and USC has as much talent as anybody Iowa has played this year. As I write this the over/under is currently sitting around 51.5. If I were a betting man I’d take that under all day.

I’m going full homer and saying the Hawkeyes will do what they’ve done all year and play for field position while making points extremely hard to come by for everyone. Consensus All-American kicker Keith Duncan will be the difference as Iowa wins 23-21.