Hawkeyes finally warm up to January

Posted: Friday, January 02, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. Iowa's 45-year drought in January bowl games is over.

With Fred Russell running for 150 yards and one touchdown, the 13th-ranked Hawkeyes dominated No. 17 Florida 37-17 in the Outback Bowl on Thursday.

Nathan Chandler threw for one TD and ran for another, Nate Kaeding kicked three field goals and Iowa (10-3) scored on a blocked punt for the third time this season to finish with double-digit wins in consecutive years for the first time in school history.

Florida's season ended with a loss in the Outback Bowl for the second straight year, and the lopsided result is almost certain to start a renewed round of speculation about Ron Zook's future as coach after a pair of 8-5 finishes.

Chris Leak's 70-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Kight was the highlight of the day for the Gators, who trailed 20-7 at the half and saw any hopes for a comeback fade when an offensive pass interference penalty wiped out an apparent touchdown that would have cut Iowa's lead to 27-17.

Instead, Florida punted two plays later and Chandler led an 80-yard drive that Russell capped with a 34-yard TD burst that made it 34-10 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.

Iowa won a January bowl for the first time since beating California in the 1959 Rose Bowl. The Hawkeyes had been 0-4 since then, including an embarrassing 38-17 loss to USC in last year's Orange Bowl.

Florida rebounded from early losses to Miami, Tennessee and Mississippi to win five of its last six regular season games.

The second-ever meeting between the schools was critical for the coaches of both teams.

Iowa's Kirk Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes on the most successful two-year run in school history, but desperately wanted to win a New Year's bowl to validate how far his program has come since going 12-30 in his first three seasons.

Zook was not a popular choice to replace Steve Spurrier at Florida two years ago and his 16-10 record falls well below the standard set by his former boss..

Although there are no indications that Spurrier is interested in returning or that Florida wants him back the decisiveness of Thursday's loss won't quiet Zook critics who question whether he's the right man for the job.

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