SAN DIEGO — The 16th-ranked University of Iowa football team won its third straight bowl game to cap a 10-win season with a 49-24 rout of No. 22 USC in the SDCCU Holiday Bowl on Friday night at SDCCU Stadium.
Junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette scored three touchdowns — one rushing, one receiving, and one via a 98-yard kickoff return — en route to Offensive Most Valuable Player honors. Junior A.J. Epenesa had four tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 1.5 tackles for loss to garner Defensive MVP honors.
The Hawkeyes’ offense stole the show in the first half, scoring four first-half touchdowns — one coming off Smith-Marsette’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that broke a 14-14 tie.
Iowa’s defense surrendered a USC touchdown on the first series of the third quarter that brought the score to 28-24. Epenesa knocked Trojan quarterback Kedon Slovis out of the game the Trojans’ next offensive series and forced three second-half turnovers.
After gaining 75 yards on its first second-half series, Iowa allowed 71 yards over the final 28 minutes.
USC out-gained Iowa, 356-328, for the game, but the Hawkeyes had a 115-22 advantage in rushing yards and didn’t commit a turnover. Iowa was 8-of-13 on third down and had a nearly seven-minute advantage in time of possession (33:24-26:36).
Senior Nate Stanley completed 18-of-27 attempts for 213 yards and two touchdowns, completing passes to six different players. Freshman Sam LaPorta had six catches for 44 yards, while junior Brandon Smith and Smith-Marsette had touchdown receptions.
Sophomore Jack Koerner had a team-high eight tackles (six solo), while junior Matt Hankins and senior Kristian Welch had seven stops apiece. Junior Nick Niemann had two tackles, a sack, and an interception — that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown — to put the exclamation point on Iowa’s third straight bowl victory.
Klovis was 22-of-30 for 260 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than a half, but USC’s rushing attack finished with 22 yards on 18 attempts.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Iowa drove 75 yards over 10 plays to take a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive. The Hawkeyes moved into USC territory on a 9-yard rush from Smith-Marsette before Nate Wieting kept the drive alive, recovering a Stanley fumble at the Iowa 49. Stanley followed with a 30-yard completion to Nico Ragaini before Tracy, Jr., scored on a reverse from 23-yards out to make the score 7-0. It was Tracy’s first career rushing touchdown and a career-long run.
- The Trojans answered with a nine play, 75-yard touchdown drive on their opening possession. Slovis completed a 30-yard pass to Amon St. Brown into Hawkeye territory and Drake London tied the game with a 4-yard touchdown reception with 4:37 left.
- Iowa made it 2-for-2, grinding out a 15-play, 72-yard touchdown drive. Junior Mekhi Sargent ran for 19 yards on third-and-9 from midfield to the USC 30 and two plays later Stanley completed a 14-yard pass to LaPorta to the 14. Smith-Marsette scored from 6-yards out four plays later to give Iowa a 14-7 lead.
- Slovis drove USC down the field for a game-tying touchdown, needing 11 plays to cover 77 yards. The freshman quarterback had three completions of 10 or more yards on the series, including a 16-yard touchdown pass to Vavae Malepeai to tie the game at 14.
- Smith-Marsette gave Iowa a special team’s lift, returning the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for his second kickoff return touchdown in as many games. Iowa led 21-14 with 5:48 left in the first half.
- Iowa’s defense forced a three-and-out and the game’s first punt on the next possession and the Hawkeyes followed with a 52-yard scoring drive over six plays to stretch their lead to 28-14. Stanley hit Ragaini for a 24-yard completion for the big play on the drive and the touchdown came via a 12-yard pass to Smith-Marsette with 1:18 left in the half.
- In its hurry up offense, USC drove 61 yards over 11 plays to close the half. Slovis drove the Trojans from their own 25 to the red zone. Chase McGrath connected on a 32-yard field goal as time expired to make the score 28-17 at the break.
- USC needed four plays to find the end zone on its first drive of the second half. Slovis connected with St. Brown for a 55-yard completion to the Iowa 5 on the third play and Stephen Carr’s 2-yard touchdown run made the score 28-24.
- The Trojans rolled the dice on the ensuing kickoff and it paid off when Michael Brown recovered his on-side kick at the USC 46. On the second play of the series, Epenesa got home to sack Slovis and force a fumble. The Trojans recovered, but lost Klovis to injury on the play and he didn’t return.
- The Hawkeyes took over at their own 10 following the USC punt and drove 90 yards over 14 plays on a series that eclipsed seven minutes. Iowa converted two third downs — via 8 and 13-yard completions to LaPorta — and Iowa moved to the red zone with a 34-yard completion to Smith-Marsette. Then Iowa flexed its muscles. The Hawkeyes ran five times, including three straight Stanley sneaks, before Goodson scored from 1-yard out to extend Iowa’s lead to 35-24.
- Iowa forced three second-half turnovers — a Geno Stone forced fumble and recovery and a Welch fumble recovery following a high snap over Matt Fink’s head. The Hawkeyes took over at the USC 6 and scored three plays later when Stanley avoided pressure and toed the line of scrimmage before hitting Brandon Smith for a 6-yard touchdown to make the score 42-24.
- The third turnover — Niemann’s interception — put an exclamation point on the victory when Niemann picked off Fink and returned it 25 yards for the touchdown, making the score 49-24. It was Niemann’s first career interception.
- Iowa’s 49 points scored are the second most scored in a bowl game in school history (55 vs. Texas in 1084 Freedom Bowl). The 49 points scored are the second most allowed by USC this season (56 vs. Oregon)
- Iowa won its third straight bowl game, tying its longest such streak in program history (2009 Outback, 2010 Orange, 2010 Insight).
- Kirk Ferentz is 9-8 all-time in bowl games. Only Ohio State (10) has more bowl wins (including playoff wins) among Big Ten teams since 2001.
- Iowa recorded its sixth 10-win season since 1999. The Hawkeyes have 47 wins over the last five years, the most of any five-year period in program history.
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter tied a Holiday Bowl record and is the seventh-longest kickoff return in school history. He is the first player in program history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in a single season (Nebraska, 95 yards). He has two career kickoff returns for a touchdown, tying the school record (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos 2009, 2010; Kahlil Hill 1998, 2000). It is the second longest kickoff return by a Hawkeye in a bowl game. The longest was C.J. Jones (100 yards) in the 2003 Orange Bowl against USC.
- Smith-Marsette’s 6-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter was his third rushing touchdown this year. He has a team-high 10 touchdowns this season. He has scored a touchdown by reception (5), rush (3), and kickoff return (2) this season.
- Smith Marsette had 203 all-purpose yards, raisin his career total to 2,834, 17th all-time. He passed Eddie Phillips, Dennis Mosley, and Jordan Canzeri today on the all-time list.
- Smith-Marsette tied Shonn Greene’s Iowa bowl record with three touchdowns. He is also just the third player in the last 15 seasons to record a rush TD, receiving TD, and kickoff return for a TD in the first half of a game. He joins Carlos Henderson in 2016 and Jason Chery in 2008.
- Since at least 1970, Smith-Marsette is the only Hawkeye in program history to score a touchdown via rush, reception, and kickoff return, in a single game. He is the first player since 1998 (Deuce McAllister, Independence Bowl) to score a touchdown via rush, reception, kickoff return.
- Nick Niemann returned an interception 25 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was Niemann’s first career interception and Iowa’s first pick-six of the season. Iowa has at least one interception return for a touchdown in each of the last 12 seasons, and 17 of the last 19 seasons.
- A.J. Epenesa tied an Iowa bowl record and matched his career high with 2.5 sacks today (Babineaux 2005 Capital One; Hodge 2005 Capital One), and raised his season total to 11.5, the most by any Hawkeye since Adrian Clayborn had 11.5 in 2009. Epenesa had a team-high 10.5 sacks in 2018. He is the first Hawkeye to record double-digit sack totals in consecutive seasons since Matt Roth in 2002-03 (10 in 2002, 12 in 2003).
- Nate Stanley registered 204 yards of total offense today, raising his career total to 8,198. He is the third player in program history to surpass 8,000 career yards of offense (Chuck Long 10,254; Drew Tate 8,427).
- Stanley passed for 213 yards today, raising his season total to 2,951, a new single-season career high and the sixth best single-season total in school history. Stanley finished his career with 8,302 passing yards, second all-time in program history (Chuck Long 10,461). He passed Drew Tate (8,292) today on the all-time list.
- Stanley started his third bowl game (3-0) and became the second quarterback in school history to win three bowl games (Ricky Stanzi, 3-0). He is one of five quarterbacks in program history to start in three bowl games. Chuck Long started four (2-2), and Matt Sherman (2-1), Drew Tate (1-2), and Stanzi (3-0) started three.
- Stanley started the last 39 games at quarterback (27-12). His 27 wins as a starting quarterback tie for second all-time with Ricky Stanzi (27). Chuck Long holds the school record (35). His streak of 39 consecutive starts at quarterback ranks second in school history to Long (47). He has 16 touchdown passes this season and 68 in his career, second all-time in program history (Chuck Long, 74).
- Keith Duncan scored seven points today, raising his season total to 119, third all-time in single-season program history (one shy of the school record, shared by Shonn Green in 2008 and Nate Kaeding in 2002). Duncan made 29 field goals this season, a single-season school record, a Big Ten record, and tied for the sixth most in NCAA single-season history.
- Tyler Goodson rushed for 48 yards and one touchdown today. He finished the season as Iowa’s leading rusher (638 yards). He is the first true freshman to ever lead the team in single-season rushing yards. The last redshirt freshman to lead Iowa in single-season rushing yards was Ladell Betts in 1998 (679 yards). Goodson led the team with five rushing touchdowns.
- Iowa is 12-3 in its last 15 rivalry/trophy games.
- Kirk Ferentz has 162 wins as a member of the Big Ten Conference, tying Joe Paterno (162) for fourth all-time in Big Ten Conference history.
- Iowa is 3-0-1 all-time in the Holiday Bowl, defeating San Diego State (39-38) in 1986, Wyoming (20-19) in 1987, and tying Brigham Young (13-13) in 1991. Iowa made its fourth Holiday Bowl appearance, and in each game the Hawkeyes have had a Hartlieb on the roster. True freshman Thomas Hartlieb is on Iowa’s 2019 roster. Chuck Hartlieb played in the 1986 and 1987 Holiday Bowl. Jim and John Hartlieb played in the 1991 Holiday Bowl.
- Iowa’s 21 points scored in the second quarter are the most points scored by the Hawkeyes in single quarter this season.
The Hawkeyes open the 2020 season hosting Northern Iowa on Sept. 5 at Kinnick Stadium.