Hawkeyes run away from the Gators in Outback Bowl


Iowa's Fred Russell (2) outruns Florida's Daryl Dixon (34) during Iowa's 37-17 win in the Outback Bowl Jan 1, 2004 in Tampa, Fla. Russell ran for 150-yards on 21 carries.

AP Photo/Scott Martin
Published: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 6:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 1, 2004 at 6:06 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Kirk Ferentz can rest a little easier.

Iowa's 45-year drought in January bowl games is over, the Hawkeyes have consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time, and Ferentz and his players can finally stop thinking about last year's flop in the Orange Bowl.

Iowa's 37-17 rout of Florida on Thursday in the Outback Bowl ensured all that.

"This is very gratifying and very rewarding. This is one more hurdle for us to climb," Ferentz said. "None of us had a good taste in our mouths after the game last January. It stuck with us."

With Fred Russell running for 150 yards and one touchdown, the 13th-ranked Hawkeyes answered critics who felt Ferentz needed to win a New Year's Day Bowl to truly re-establish Iowa as one of the nation's top programs.

Nathan Chandler threw for one TD and ran for another, Nate Kaeding kicked three field goals and Iowa (10-3) scored on a blocked punt for the third time this season to improve to 21-5 over the past two seasons.

Florida's season ended with a loss in the Outback Bowl for the second straight year, and the lopsided result is almost certain to start a renewed round of speculation about Ron Zook's future as coach after a pair of 8-5 finishes.

"I apologize to the Gator fans. It's my responsibility to get this football team ready to play and we weren't ready to play," Zook said.

Chris Leak's 70-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Kight was the highlight of the day for the Gators, who trailed 20-7 at the half and saw any hopes for a comeback fade when an offensive pass interference penalty wiped out a TD that would have cut Iowa's lead to 27-17.

Instead, Florida punted two plays later and Chandler led an 80-yard drive that Russell capped with a 34-yard TD burst to make it 34-10 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.

Iowa won a January bowl for the first time since beating California in the 1959 Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes had been 0-4 since then, including an embarrassing three-touchdown loss to USC in last year's Orange Bowl.

"I think it's just one more step toward credibility," Ferentz said. "I had no idea; none of us knew how many games we would win this season. ... Our guys feel awfully good about what they've accomplished."

Florida rebounded from early losses to Miami, Tennessee and Mississippi to win five of its last six regular season games. The turnaround began with a 19-7 upset of LSU on the road, and Leak's steady improvement was one of the keys to the surge.

The freshman quarterback was 22-of-41 for 268 yards and one interception, but had most of his success after Iowa's Matt Melloy blocked Eric Wilbur's punt and fell on it for a touchdown to give the Hawkeyes a 20-point lead early in the second half.

"Chris had a tough day," Zook said. "Once again, you've got to give Iowa credit. They did a great job."

The second-ever meeting between the schools was just as critical for Zook as it was for Ferentz, who has turned Iowa around after going 12-30 in his first three seasons.

Zook was not a popular choice to replace Steve Spurrier at Florida two years ago and his 16-10 record falls well below the standard set by his former boss, who resigned as coach of the Washington Redskins this week.

Although there are no indications that Spurrier is interested in returning _ or that Florida wants him back _ the decisiveness of Thursday's loss won't quiet Zook critics who question whether he's the right man for the job.

"I felt like we were prepared. I felt like we had great practices, but we didn't play like it. That's my responsibility," Zook said. "There were times that we showed spurts. We just couldn't sustain anything."

The Gators were outgained 231-133 in the first half with most of Florida's yardage coming on Leak's TD pass to Kight, who slipped 10 yards behind the nearest defender, safety Bob Sanders, and caught the ball in stride at the Iowa 20.

Chandler answered with a 3-yard TD pass to Maurice Brown, then scrambled 5 yards around left end for a second-quarter TD that put the Hawkeyes up 17-7. Kaeding added first-half field goals of 47 and 32 yards.

Chandler finished 13-of-25 for 170 yards.

Russell broke a 25-yard run on Iowa's first play from scrimmage and had 95 on 12 attempts at the half. He finished with 21 carries, and had three runs of at least 25 yards in what he said will be his last game for Iowa.

" thought this was his best season," Ferentz said of the senior running back, who plans to turn pro despite having one year of eligibility remaining.

"With the injuries we had and the guys that we lost ... obviously all eyes were on Fred from the get go. I thought he played outstanding football all season long and he finished up strong."

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