CAPITAL ONE BOWL
JANUARY 1, 2005
IOWA vs. LSU
I can hardly believe that another Hawkeye bowl game is upon us.
It seems like just yesterday when I was sitting up in the press box of Raymond James Stadium, munching on a Bloomin' Onion with Rob Howe and eating one of the best catered lunches I have had the pleasure of tasting in any press box I have ever visited.
That is the advantage when the Bowl Sponsor is in the food business.
Being that Iowa plays in the Capitol One Bowl game this year, and remembering my experiences with credit card solicitations back in my college days, I am expecting to be tempted to sign up for a charge card with such solicitations of free Butterfinger's and two liter bottles of Coke.
Hey, it worked on me back in 1991, so you never know.
But you didn't come here to hear about what goes on in the sterile environment of the press box. Trust me, even though the food is good for the bowl games, nothing beats sitting the stands and rooting on your team. There is no cheering in the press box.
WHEN IOWA IS ON OFFENSE
I don't think that I am exaggerating when I say this might be Iowa's toughest test of the 2004 season.
Michigan had a nice offense and a solid defense, but LSU's defense is out of this world good, and their total offense numbers are better than Michigan's. In my opinion, Michigan was the best overall team that Iowa faced in 2004.
LSU is ranked #3 in the nation in total defense, allowing a paltry 249.9 yards per game. They are allowing just over 100 yards per game on the ground, good for 13th best in the nation, and their pass defense is 3rd best in the country.
As we all know, the Hawkeyes of 2004 have gone to the air to succeed, and if they want to win against LSU, their strategy will be no different.
In my opinion, the edge goes to the LSU Defense.
WHEN IOWA IS ON DEFENSE
The good thing about this game from an Iowa fan's perspective is that they have a defense that can help keep the Bayou Bengals in check.
Iowa ranks 10th in the nation in total defense, allowing 289 yards per game. They have the 6th best rushing defense in the nation, allowing 90 yards per game on the ground. That includes Minnesota and Michigan State gaining nearly 550 yards rushing against Iowa, well over half of their allowed total for the year.
The bad news is that LSU comes into this game averaging 200 yards per game on the ground, good for a top 20 national ranking. Alley Broussard leads the way with 69 yards per game. Their rushing attack is not as formidable as Lawrence Maroney and Marion Barber of Minnesota.
LSU's passing attack is not strong, as they average just under 200 yards per game through the air, good for 75th best in the nation.
Clearly, Iowa has to focus on stopping the talented trio of running backs that LSU will feature in this game and make the Tigers one-dimensional. It's one of the oldest adages in football, yet, it's what Iowa has done during the last four years on the way to winning 37 games.
Craig Davis is their leading receiver, but none of the LSU pass catchers has proven to be a huge threat this season.
ADVANTAGE: Iowa, just not as big of an advantage as LSU has when Iowa is on offense and they are on defense.
LSU has a dangerous return man in Skyler Green, though he has not ‘gotten off' in 2004 the way he did in 2003. He is averaging 9.6 yards per punt return, including a 65-yard return for a touchdown.
No player on their team is averaging more than 21 yards per kickoff return and as a team, they are averaging 19.0 yards per return.
Ed Hinkel is 21st in the country, averaging nearly 13 yards per punt return this season on 19 tries. He is a veteran return man, and you don't expect him to fumble the football. While Walner Belleus might have more ‘home run' capabilities, as we saw in the Arizona State game, he has been risky handling the football. Belleus us averaging 17 yards per return on 12 tries.
Nine different Hawkeyes have returned kickoffs this season, and they are averaging 19 yards per return as a team. But they may have caught some lightning in a bottle late in the year, as true frosh Damian Sims averaged nearly 24 yards per return on five attempts. His return against Wisconsin near the end of the first half set up the Drew Tate to Clinton Solomon touchdown play after Wisconsin had tied the game at 7-7.
In the place kicking game, LSU uses a two-headed approach. Chris Jackson handles the deeper kicks, while Ryan Gaudet can come in closer to the uprights. Jackson is 9 of 15 on the season while Gaudet is 6 of 8.
Jackson comes into this game having made kicks from 46 and 53 yards in their season finale against Arkansas. But the place kicking game has been inconsistent all season, as LSU has converted on just 15 of 23 kicks.
Iowa's Kyle Schlicher enters this game hotter than a bottle of Cajun hot sauce, having succecssfully converted his last eight attempts, including a 49 yarder against Minnesota with the game on the line.
He is 20 of 25 on the season, and had another streak of eight consecutive field goals made during the season. Iowa is going to need a stellar effort from Schlicher in this game, as I expect LSU's defense to stiffen near the red zone. It would not surprise me to see Schlicher trot out to attempt at least four field goals in this game.
One of the biggest things that jumps out in this game, aside from Nick Saban's lame duck status at LSU, is the Tigers national ranking in turnover margin; 79th. They have more giveaways than takeaways, a stat that is uncommon for a 9-2 team playing in a power conference. It tells me that their defense has been all the more impressive than their already gaudy statistics would indicate.
Iowa is fourth in the nation in turnover margin, something you would expect from a 9-2 team in a power conference with the worst rushing attack in the country.
As I mentioned, you have the Saban factor. Will it be ‘win one for the Gipper' or will the limbo status of many of LSU's assistant coaches be an issue?
It's impossible to know until after the game, but it's certainly an intriguing pre-game storyline.
But both of these teams are now considered among the elite college football programs in the nation, but just one of them will be 10-2 after the dust settles on January 1st. While 9-3 is a very respectable record, especially if you are Iowa, with all of the injuries and family hardships they have had to overcome this year, 10-2 is several notches up the latter.
An Iowa win would clinch a third consecutive top ten finish in the polls; not many programs will be able to stake such a claim.
JON MILLER'S IOWA-LSU PREDICTION
After poring over the data, the statistical geek inside of me says to take LSU 20 to 17 or 17-13.
Nearly every prognosticating bone in my body says to take the Tigers in a defensive struggle, where an Iowa turnover or two seals their fate.
But after having watched the 2004 Iowa season, and then replaying the games numerous times during the season, it's very hard for me to listen to my gut in this instance.
It's hard for me to think of the Iowa coaching staff having so much time to prepare a game plan and come away empty handed, after we all witnessed how they outclassed Florida's staff last year, and factoring in the Saban-factor in this game.
It's impossible to think about 30,000 Iowa fans heading back to the Hawkeye State with their heads in their hands, the way they did after the 2003 Orange Bowl.
If you have been reading my predictions for very long, you know that I take them seriously and just don't go ‘homer'. You can look below and see that information for yourself.
For this game, I am going to ignore my gut instinct to pick LSU, and I think that somehow, someway, the Hawkeyes find a way to end this magical and mystifying season with another New Year's Day Bowl win.
PREDICTION: IOWA 19 - LSU 17
Drew Tate finds a way, and he is immortalized in Hawkeye lore. Matt Roth and Jonathon Babineaux go out in All American-snubbed fashion, while Iowa scores a touchdown on special teams. Kyle Sclicher kicks four field goals, equaling Nate Kaeding's output in Iowa's 19-16 Alamo Bowl win against Texas Tech in 2001.
JON'S IN SEASON GAME BY GAME PREDICTIONS
Week One: Iowa 48, Kent State 10 (Iowa 39, Kent State 7, actual score)
Week Two: Iowa 24, Iowa State 6 (Iowa 17, Iowa State 10)
Week Three: Arizona State 23, Iowa 17 (ASU 44, Iowa 7)
Week Four: Michigan 26, Iowa 10 (Michigan 30, Iowa 17)
Week Five: Iowa 23, MSU 13 (Iowa 38, MSU 16)
Week Six: Iowa 23, Ohio State 19 (Iowa 33, OSU 7)
Week Seven: Penn State 17, Iowa 15 (Iowa 6, PSU 4)
Week Eight: Iowa 23, Illinois 9 (Iowa 23, Illinois 13)
Week Nine: Iowa 23, Purdue 17 (Iowa 23, Purdue 21)
Week Ten: Iowa 29, Minnesota 27 (Iowa 23, Minnesota 13)
Week Eleven: Iowa 30, Wisconsin 7 (Iowa 13, Wisconsin 10)
Jon's Game Week predictions since the start of the 2001 season: 43-6 (87.75% accuracy) Losses: 2001: Iowa State & Michigan; 2002: USC; 2003: Michigan State & Ohio State, 2004: Penn State.
Tune into your local Mediacom Television station on Saturday morning from 10:30 to Noon, as Jon Miller will co-host Mediacom's special 90-minute Iowa-LSU pre-game television show live from Orlando.