Outback Bowl features sputtering offense, stingy defense
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By FRED GOODALL
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Sputtering offenses and stingy defenses.
Monday's Outback Bowl figures to be a low-scoring game, and neither No. 20 Florida nor No. 21 Iowa offer any apologies.
Sure, Jim McElwain and Kirk Ferentz would like to see the Gators (8-4) and Hawkeyes (8-4) light up the scoreboard with a little more regularity, but both coaches appreciate what stout defenses have helped them accomplish during a season in which their offenses struggled.
"If you play defense it gives you a chance. That's one of the reasons we were able to be successful," said Ferentz, finishing his 18th season at Iowa. "You look across the field, and that's certainly what we're looking at. They're a team that's been really good on defense the past two years. They certainly are going to be a big foe for us that way."
Florida ranks 115th in the nation in total offense, five spots ahead of Iowa. The teams are sixth and 24th in total defense.
McElwain is 18-8 in two seasons with the Gators. However, they've struggled to score, opening offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to criticism from fans accustomed to the days Florida compiled impressive numbers under former coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer.
"At a place like the University of Florida, when it's good, it's really good, and when it's maybe not going so good, it seems like maybe the sky's falling from the outside," quarterback Austin Appleby said, defending Nussmeier.
"I think a lot of the quarterbacks who played here can attest to that. ... The only things we can control is the way that we come to work every single day. And I know Coach Nussmeier, he grinds like no coach I've ever been around," Appleby said. "He sacrifices more for us and takes away from his family to be in here late, late, late, late (for game-planning). .... When he's in his groove, there's no one better. At the end of the day, we've got to go out there and execute for him. It takes all of us. It's not just one person."
Some things to know about the Gators and Hawkeyes:
FLORIDA FINALE?: Defensive tackle Caleb Brantley and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are likely playing their final game for Florida. All three juniors are expected to leave school early and enter the NFL draft. Linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive back Duke Dawson also are considering turning pro. Tabor has postponed making an announcement because he wants to "do it the right way." "If I decide to come out, then I would give my thanks to everybody: my tutors, my teachers, my advisers, my coaches, the whole Gator Nation, because sometimes people forget when you were here, people were helping you," Tabor said.
DANIELS, WADLEY AND HISTORY: Running backs LeShun Daniels, Jr. (1,013 yards) and Akrum Wadley (966 yards) have been a terrific pair for the run-focused Hawkeyes, and a decent game out of Wadley would put the duo in Iowa's record books. With 34 yards against the Gators, Wadley would join Daniels at 1,000 - and no pair of Iowa backs has ever rushed for 1,000 yards in the same season. Wadley might also be counted on as a threat in the passing game for the Hawkeyes, whose receivers have struggled mightily all season.
PINEIRO TRAVELS: Florida place-kicker Eddy Pineiro made the bowl trip and has been cleared to play despite a brief hospital stay during the holiday break. That's significant for the Gators, who have little depth behind him. Pineiro made 18 of 22 field goals this season, including nine in a row. He is 9 of 11 from 40 yards or longer, including two 54-yarders.
KING'S GOODBYE: The Outback Bowl will mark the final appearance by Iowa cornerback Desmond King, one of the best players in school history. King missed his chance to repeat as the Jim Thorpe Award winner, given to the nation's top defensive back, because teams were terrified to throw his way. But he leads the Big Ten with 27.2 yards on kickoff returns and is second in the league with 9.8 yards per punt return. King, a likely first-round pick in the NFL Draft, will start his 53rd game on Monday, a school record.
APPLEBY'S FIRST: Florida quarterback Austin Appleby will start and end his collegiate career against Iowa. Appleby, a graduate transfer who spent the last four years at Purdue, had his first playing action as a redshirt freshman against the Hawkeyes in 2013. He completed 5 of 6 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. He also played against Iowa in 2014 and 2015. "That's kind of cool and neat in itself," he said.
AP Sports Writers Luke Meredith in Iowa City, Iowa, and Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.
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Updated January 1, 2017