The first set of tracks were left by NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick, who wheeled his No. 4 Outback car onto the soggy Raymond James Stadium turf for the pregame coin toss.
Those other tracks? They belonged to LSU tailback Jeremy Hill, who had a career day carrying the football during Wednesday’s Outback Bowl against Iowa.
Playing with freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings, who was making his first career start, LSU leaned on the running game and ran past Iowa, 21-14, in front of an announced crowd of 51,296.
Hill rushed for a career-high 216 yards and two touchdowns to capture the game’s MVP honors as the Tigers won 10 games for a school-record fourth consecutive season.
“I thought we rushed the football well, and if you give Jeremy Hill an opportunity to close out a game, he knows what that means,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He put the finishing touches on our victory.”
LSU averaged 265.1 passing yards a game this season behind senior Zach Mettenberger, who threw for 3,082 yards in 12 games. But Mettenberger missed the Outback Bowl with a torn ACL. So Miles called for 51 run plays, including 12 on the game’s opening drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Jennings.
“We would have opened it with 13 or 14 runs but I think we scored before we could get there,” Miles said.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he wasn’t surprised to see LSU stick with the running game.
“There was no surprise by that,” Ferentz said. “They’ve run the ball and thrown the ball really well this year.”
Hill, a third-year sophomore, carried 28 times and easily surpassed his previous career best of 184 yards set in LSU’s win against Auburn on Sept. 21.
“We knew that the weather was going to force us to get the running game going and being successful in the running game in order to win,” Hill said. “All of the backs did a great job and when our offensive line did block successfully we got some big plays.”
? Hill is a third-year sophomore, having sat out his freshman season after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor for carnal knowledge of a female juvenile. He is also on probation for misdemeanor simple battery for an altercation outside a Baton Rouge bar and recently had his court-ordered curfew extended from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ? Iowa (8-5) entered the game ranked seventh in total defense. The Hawkeyes allowed 120.8 rushing yards per game this season.
“When we watched them on film I knew we had to take what we could get, the ugly yards, 3, 4 yards (a carry),” Hill said. “I definitely didn’t plan on getting that much.”
Hill scored on a 14-yard run midway through the second quarter to give the Tigers a 14-0 halftime lead.
Iowa cut the lead to 14-7 on a 2-yard run by Mark Weisman in the third quarter — a play made possible when Hawkeyes safety John Lowdermilk dropped the ball before crossing the goal line after returning an interception 71 yards.
Iowa backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, who entered the game in the fourth quarter after starter Jake Rudock sprained his right knee, had the Hawkeyes moving toward a tying touchdown when he was picked off by Craig Loston at the LSU 8-yard line.
Hill carried the ball four times and gained 77 yards on the ensuing drive, with the last 37 coming on his second scoring run of the day.
“He’s a good back, powerful, strong,” Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “Give them credit, he ran hard and broke tackles.”
Iowa, looking for only the 14th season of at least nine wins in the program’s history, had trouble moving the ball against LSU’s defense and finished with 233 total yards.
“They’re really good. That’s what we saw on film,” Rudock said. “They definitely came out ready to go. They gave us some different looks that made it difficult to run certain plays that we wanted to run. I give them credit for doing a good job of scouting us.”