TAMPA, Fla. - No. 14 Louisiana State has no qualms about Anthony Jennings making his first college start against Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
The true freshman quarterback came off the bench to lead a 99-yard drive in the closing minutes of the Tigers' regular season finale to beat Arkansas, so LSU coach Les Miles feels his offense will be in good hands against the Hawkeyes on Wednesday.
Miles believes poise is one of Jennings' strongest assets, which is one of the reasons LSU didn't blink when senior Zach Mettenberger, who's thrown for nearly 5,800 yards in his career, injured his knee with his team trailing 27-24 and seemingly running out of time against Arkansas.
"The confidence of the team when he went under center really didn't change a lick. They kind of knew what to expect," Miles said. "Again, we expect him to play well."
Jennings has appeared in eight games, but had only thrown three passes before Mettenberger went down with a knee injury that will keep him out of the Outback Bowl. The 19-year-old from Marietta, Ga., was 4 of 7 for 76 yards against Arkansas, including a 49-yard TD throw to finish the eight-play drive that gave the Tigers their ninth victory.
A win Wednesday would give LSU (9-3) a school-record four consecutive seasons with at least 10 victories.
Iowa (8-4) vs. No. 14 LSU (9-3)
At Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Today at Noon (ESPN)
Iowa (8-4) is third in the Big Ten, seventh nationally, in total defense, but Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said LSU's balanced attack poses problems for everyone.
There may not be much information available on Jennings, however Ferentz has seen enough - and knows enough about Miles' program - to know what the Hawkeyes are up against.
"That's really the only wild-card for us, that we don't have that much tape on him. But as I've said before, the job of a quarterback - regardless of his style or his age - is to the move the team," Ferentz said. "And he moved them in as about as extreme circumstances as you can possibly dream up. You wouldn't put a guy in that situation in practice and expect him to do what he did."
Just the fact that Jennings rose to No. 2 on LSU's depth chart as a true freshman tells Ferentz a lot.
"They've recruited a lot of good players at LSU historically. ... We're not sure exactly what to expect, but I know we can count on a really good player being back there and a guy who's a leader of their football team," the Iowa coach said.
Here are five things to watch when the Tigers and Hawkeyes, who both have rich football traditions, meet for just the second time.
NEW QB/SAME PLAN
Jennings is a more effective runner than Mettenberger, but Miles says the Tigers won't change much offensively with the freshman running the show. Running back Jeremy Hill and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry teamed with Mettenberger to make LSU the first team in Southeastern Conference history to feature a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. The Tigers expect Jennings to keep his playmakers involved.
Iowa features far less star power on offense, however the Hawkeyes have a balanced attack that thrives on spreading the ball around. Quarterback Jake Rudock for 2,281 yards and 18 TDs in his first year as the Hawkeyes' starter, and leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley has just 39 receptions for 384 yards and four TDs. Running back Mark Weisman is the leading rusher with 938 yards.
Few dispute the notion that from top to bottom the SEC is the toughest football league in the nation. But Miles, who played at Michigan and later served as an assistant coach with the Wolverines, holds the Big Ten in high regard, too, calling it "every bit as capable as any conference in America."
Iowa's defense is allowing 303.2 yards per game, 120.8 rushing and 182.4 passing. LSU will challenge them with an offense that's averaging 465.9 yards - 200.8 rushing and 265.1 passing.
LSU is looking to make history with its fourth consecutive season with at least 10 wins. The Tigers also had a stretch of three double-digit seasons under Miles from 2005-07. Iowa finished the regular season with a three-game winning streak to get back in a New Year's bowl for the first time in four seasons.