Iowa Football

Iowa Hawkeyes put left foot on USC and shook all about in Holiday Bowl

Dominating performance lifts Iowa to sixth 10-win season under Kirk Ferentz

SAN DIEGO — There’s an end-of-the-year chirpiness that emerges in bowl games. You don’t know the other team and you don’t care. You don’t have to practice tomorrow, so get your money’s worth.

So, the trash talk went silent in the second quarter. USC did land one pretty decent one liner that left wide receiver Nico Ragaini a little confused.

“One kid told me today that I need to get into the weight room,” Ragaini said. “I thought I did a pretty good job blocking him, but ‘Get into the weight room.’ I thought it was pretty funny.”

The No. 16 Hawkeyes (10-3) were slap happy after burying No. 22 USC (8-5), 49-24, Friday night in the Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium.

Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette scored three touchdowns three different ways, including a 98-yard kick return. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Quarterback Nate Stanley threw two TD passes to launch the Hawkeyes.

To honor the recent death of legendary coach Hayden Fry, the Hawkeyes danced the “Hokey Pokey” in the locker room celebration. That was a Fry staple celebration after victories. Even after 21 seasons of Kirk Ferentz, Fry stuffed this program with so much lore that has stood the test of time.

Iowa played this game without Tigerhawk logos on their helmets, another Fry invention, the Tigerhawk and the playing without logos when the program and university mourned one of their own.


“I thought we were going to sing our fight song,” Smith-Marsette said. “Then, you hear, ‘Put your right foot in ...’ Like Nate said, it’s a tradition. Special being able to have everybody in the locker room contribute to it. It’s a special thing.”

Here are the boxes the Hawkeyes checked

— This was head coach Ferentz’s sixth 10-plus-win season.

— The Hawkeyes have 47 wins over the last five years, the most of any five-year period in program history.

— Iowa won its third straight bowl game, tying the longest such streak in program history (2009 Outback, 2010 Orange, 2010 Insight).

“I know it was a big deal,” Epenesa said. “Coach Fry was a mentor for Coach Ferentz. I mean, the legacy he left on the University of Iowa is unmatched by anybody. You think of Iowa, you think of Hayden Fry and Dan Gable and people like that.

“To be able to have a man like that just touch a program so much in that way, it makes you feel good to be part of a program like this and to be a part of a team coached by Coach Ferentz.”

Iowa’s wrinkle for USC was a ton of misdirection, which included three reverses. Your favorite edge attack had to have been the double reverse, from Smith-Marsette to Tyrone Tracy, who floated for a 23-yard TD and a 7-0 lead.

The Iowa staff saw something it liked on the edge of USC’s defense. Iowa receivers accounted for five TDs, with two of them coming on the ground. Smith-Marsette had a 6-yard TD run in the second quarter.

“Like Ihmir said, we put in a lot of time and we see that they had some problems defending those,” said Stanley, who completed 18 of 27 for 213 yards and two TDs. “We were able to exploit those weaknesses as well.”


Here’s what this game really was: Iowa rushed for 115 yards. Not great, but enough when the wide receivers are scoring five TDs. USC rushed just 18 times for 22 yards.

“They’re a start-fast football team,” USC head coach Clay Helton said. “We put ourselves in some third-and-long situations, which we wanted. They caught us. They beat us in man coverage a couple of times that ended up creating first downs and keeping drives alive. I think they were perfect in the first half.”

Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said Monday he believed the Hawkeyes had a physical edge. What made him say that?

“They have a lot of good athletes, a lot of high-ranked guys,” Wirfs said (by the way, he’s still mulling the NFL decision). “I said that because what Iowa’s built on, low-tier guys who are built from the ground up. I’m not saying other programs don’t work hard, but we really have a nose-to-the-grindstone mentality.”

The Hawkeyes’ defense needed exactly that at the start of the second half.

Trailing 28-17 at halftime, USC didn’t waste time on the first possession of the second half. The Trojans needed just 1:31 to go 75 yards and pull within 28-24.

The Trojans followed that with an onside kick that caught Iowa off guard. So, first down USC at its 46. This is where everything went wrong.

After an 11-yard gain, Epenesa got the strip/sack on sensational freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis and he left the game with an elbow injury. Slovis finished 22 of 30 for 260 yards and two TDs. He was replaced by Matt Fink, but Epenesa played the role of the “Kraken” and destroyed their city.

Iowa’s defense forced a punt after the onside kick. Yes, the punt put Iowa at its 10-yard line, but the offense took it from there.


A 34-yard completion to Smith-Marsette fueled a massive 14-play, 90-yard drive that went for almost half of the third quarter. Running back Tyler Goodson cashed in from the 1 with 3:54 left in the third.

“You could feel momentum swinging, definitely an opportunity for us,” Ferentz said. “For us to come out and get a stop after we’d been struggling to get a stop, really huge to flip it back. That could have gotten interesting real quick if they had taken the ball and gotten down there and scored.”

It was interesting, but not for USC. The Trojans were turned around and shook all around.

And that’s what the Holiday Bowl was all about.

Comments: (319) 398-8256;

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.