IOWA CITY | Kirk Ferentz appreciates the way this Iowa football team earned its opportunity to face one of the nation’s elite programs in Louisiana State on New Year’s Day in the Outback Bowl.
“When we won at Purdue to put ourselves in a position to go to a bowl after missing out last year, this group kept moving,’’ Ferentz said. “I’m proud of the way our players handled the last 13 days of the season, the way they played their best football in the last half of the Michigan game and certainly the following week at Nebraska.’’
Because the Hawkeyes didn’t simply settle for a six-win season and finished 8-4, Iowa positioned itself to return to the Tampa Bay area for the fourth time since 2004 and accepted an invitation Sunday to play 14th-rated LSU in a noon game on Jan. 1 at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.
“We earned our spot for a lot of reasons,’’ director of athletics Gary Barta said. “We ended up where I thought we might and that’s a credit to Kirk, to Hayden (Fry) and to our fans for creating the bowl tradition we and have most importantly, it’s a credit to the kids on the field this year. They earned this.’’
The Tigers handed BCS Championship Game participant Auburn its only loss of the season, winning a 35-21 game on Sept. 21, but losses to Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama left LSU with a 9-3 record and a third-place finish in the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division.
“At first blush, I know we will be facing a quality opponent,’’ Ferentz said. “I know the last time we played them, they had great talent, great personnel and were well-coached, and I’m certain that hasn’t changed. It will be a great challenge, something for our team to latch onto.’’
LSU coach Les Miles will send a first-time starting quarterback to the field to face the Hawkeyes.
Freshman Anthony Jennings, who has attempted 10 passes this season, is expected to open behind center for the Tigers after Zach Mettenberger suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the regular-season finale against Arkansas.
Iowa and LSU have met just once in football, in a 2005 Capital One Bowl match-up in Orlando that was memorable for more than being Nick Saban’s final game on the Tigers’ sideline.
The Hawkeyes took home a 30-25 victory when Drew Tate hit Warren Holloway with a 56-yard touchdown pass as time expired, the first career touchdown catch for the fifth-year senior.
Ferentz walks past a photo of the play every time he steps out of coaches’ offices at the Hayden Fry Football Complex.
“It’s was a great play, but it’s not something I think much about now,’’ Ferentz said. “I guess we all move forward.’’
The Hawkeyes earned a bowl invitation for the 27th time in the program’s history, including 11 during the 15 seasons Ferentz has coached the team.
“I told the guys (Saturday) that I didn’t know how things would play out, but that I felt like we’d be going up against a pretty recognizable name in a bowl and that’s a good thing,’’ Ferentz said. “You always want to play a tough opponent and that is what we will be doing in getting the chance to play LSU.’’
TICKETS: Ticket orders for Iowa’s Outback Bowl game against LSU are now being accepted at hawkeyesports.com.
Fans who did not purchase season or single-game tickets in 2013 may place orders beginning at 9 a.m. Monday and current ticket holders have until Dec. 15 to retain priority seating with their orders.
Prices range from $80-170 for the game to be played at noon on Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The game will be televised by ESPN.