Iowa Football

Iowa ships out to San Diego for Holiday Bowl vs. USC

No. 16 Hawkeyes will match up with No. 22 USC and a talented Trojans passing game

Quarterbacks Nate Stanley and Kedon Slovis of Iowa and USC. (The Gazette, Associated Press)
Quarterbacks Nate Stanley and Kedon Slovis of Iowa and USC. (The Gazette, Associated Press)
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IOWA CITY — The Hawkeyes and Holiday Bowl got to know each other in the late 1980s and early ’90s.

The games were doozies, too. In 1986, the Hawkeyes beat San Diego State on Rob Houghtlin’s 41-yard field goal as time expired. In the 1987 Holiday, defensive back Merton Hanks blocked a 52-yard field goal with 46 seconds left to preserve a one-point win. In 1991, the Hawkeyes faced Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer and BYU and the game ended in a 13-13 tie.

There won’t be a tie this time.

The No. 16 Hawkeyes will take a shot at a measure of revenge in the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl. Iowa (9-3) was selected Sunday, and probably a long time ago, to face No. 22 USC (8-4). The game kicks off at 7 p.m. Iowa time on Dec. 27 and will be broadcast on FS1.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was in Foxboro, Mass., Sunday night to watch his son, James, start for the New England Patriots, so defensive coordinator Phil Parker got the chair (lectern) for the bowl announcement.

The season ended just last Friday and the bowl is two weeks from Friday. When it comes to bowls and college football, this is a time crunch.

“We’re going to have to get a sense of urgency to get things done,” Parker said. “You can’t wait until the last minute.”

Recruiting impact is minimal. The Iowa staff will hit it hard this week with basic maintenance calls with a class that has basically been in place since July. Also, Parker was asked about any position changes. After just two bowl practices, there’s no news on those.

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This will be the third visit in six years for the Trojans, who beat Nebraska 45-42 in the 2014 game and lost to Wisconsin 23-21 in 2015.

“We are proud and honored to be part of the 2019 Holiday Bowl,” USC head coach Clay Helton said in a statement. “The game is a terrific matchup between teams that finished very strong down the stretch. To have the opportunity to compete against a team coached by Kirk Ferentz, who is so respected in our profession, is an honor.”

The Holiday Bowl did a live broadcast of its announcement over Instagram. Bowl officials seemed excited. Santa held up a Hawkeye helmet. (They did the helmet thing even though the news had been broken across the internet.)

USC put a hurting on the Hawkeyes in the 2003 Orange Bowl, 38-17. That was the last meeting between the two teams.

USC is coming out of a bit of a nutty ride in the last week with Helton and athletics director Mike Bohn.

Bohn announced that he would keep Helton despite a 13-11 record in the last two seasons, including 5-7 last year, USC’s worst record since 2000.

The announcement was met with anger and bemusement and headlines that ranged in the “What?” range. Helton did win five of his last six games and so the contract runs through 2023 and seems safe for now.

Bohn said in a statement that he and Helton “will work together to take a hard look at all aspects of the football enterprise and will make the tough decisions necessary to compete at a championship level.”

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The Hawkeyes ended the season with wins over No. 18 Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska. The Citrus Bowl entered the conversation for the Hawkeyes. That went to No. 14 Michigan, which did beat Iowa 10-3 in October. The Wolverines will face No. 13 Alabama.

Iowa should be healthy for the bowl. The biggest question might be wide receiver Brandon Smith, who missed the final five games of the season with an ankle injury. Smith was close to returning and did actually play an emergency snap against Minnesota, but couldn’t get over the hump. The 6-3, 220-pounder should be ready to add some numbers to his already career year of 33 catches for 407 yards and four TDs.

It’d be naive to blow past the fact that this is the time of year for NFL early-entry announcements. So far, nothing really out of the Hawkeyes on this. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa was asked late in the season and he said he hadn’t thought about it. Epenesa and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, an Outland Trophy semifinalist, will more than likely have the NFL opportunity and there could be others.

Wirfs and Epenesa said Sunday evening that they will play in the bowl game and didn’t go beyond that. They both said they have reached no decision on whether or not they’ll leave early for the NFL.

USC had an injury at quarterback in game 1 when J.T. Daniels suffered a torn ACL. Kedon Slovis took over and had a freshman All-America type of season, finishing second in the Pac-12 with 294 passing yards a game with 28 TD passes and nine interceptions.

He also had a trio of talented wide receivers. Senior Michael Pittman led the Pac-12 with 95 receptions for 1,222 yards and 11 TDs.

On defense, USC allows 27.8 points per game. The Trojans also are minus-7 in turnover margin.

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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