SAN DIEGO, CA – A tough month for the Iowa Hawkeyes ended with a rousing Holiday Bowl victory over Southern California that would have made Hayden Fry and Bump Elliott proud.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette scored on a 6-yard run, a 98-yard kickoff return and a 12-yard reception — all in the second quarter — to lead No. 19 Iowa to a 49-24 rout of No. 22 USC on Friday night.
Senior Nate Stanley threw two touchdown passes and the Hawkeyes (10-3) won their fourth straight game for their sixth 10-win season in coach Kirk Ferentz's 21 years.
The Hawkeyes honored both Fry, the former coach who died Dec. 17 at age 90, and Elliott, a former athletic director who died Dec. 7 at 94.
“It's been a really challenging month in Iowa athletics with the passing of Bump and Coach Fry," said Ferentz, who was an assistant under Fry. “When you think about both of those men, what they stood for and what they taught, was competing at a high level and doing it with great competitiveness, but also with integrity.
“That's one of the reasons I'm just so proud to be at Iowa and hopefully this is one they both enjoyed tonight, and more importantly their families."
The Hawkeyes even did the Hokey Pokey during a locker room celebration, continuing one of many traditions Fry started during his tenure from 1979-98.
“We felt to honor him, we would do that," Stanley said.
Smith-Marsette, the offensive player of the game, was late getting into the locker room because of the trophy presentation. “I thought we were going to sing the fight song, and all you hear is, ‘Put your right foot in ... ‘ Just being able to part of that, like Nate said, it was a tradition for Coach Fry. It was a special thing."
USC freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who threw two touchdown passes, was knocked out of the game with an injured right elbow in the third quarter. The Trojans (8-5) fell apart after Slovis left and had their three-game winning streak snapped.
Smith-Marsette helped the Hawkeyes to a 28-17 halftime lead.
Smith-Marsette scored on a 6-yard sweep for a 14-7 lead. After USC tied it on Slovis' 16-yard pass to Vavae Malepeai, Smith-Marsette returned the kickoff 98 yards to give the Hawkeyes the lead for good.
Smith-Marsette, a junior wide receiver, also had a 95-yard kickoff return for a score in the regular-season finale, a 27-24 victory over Nebraska.
He credited his teammates on special teams. “They work their (rear) off to go out there, sacrifice their body for me. Just being able to run behind them is incredible. They set me up perfectly tonight. All I did was follow my blockers. Credit to them."
Stanley found Smith-Marsette on a 12-yard scoring pass on Iowa's next possession for a 28-14 lead.
Chase McGrath kicked a 32-yard field goal as the clock expired to pull USC to 28-17 at halftime.
The Trojans pulled to 28-24 on Stephen Carr's 2-yard run to cap the opening drive of the second half. It followed a 55-yard pass from Slovis to Amon-Ra St. Brown to the Iowa 5. Jack Koerner was called for roughing the passer when he slammed down Slovis, whose head hit the turf.
Kicker Michael Brown then recovered his own onside kick. Slovis was hurt two plays later when he was sacked and fumbled, which was recovered by USC. Slovis came out and was replaced by Matt Fink.
Slovis took over after JT Daniels suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener and threw for 3,242 yards and 28 touchdowns, against nine interceptions in the regular season. He threw for a school-record 515 yards as well as four touchdowns in a 52-35 victory over UCLA.
“I mean, nothing really changed," USC receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. “It's just we kind of got shocked because our starting quarterback had gotten out, then it kind of deflected our, like, flow. Just one thing led to another. That's what happened."
Iowa put it away with a 90-yard drive capped by Tyler Goodson's 1-yard run for a 35-24 lead late in the third quarter. Stanley had a 34-yard pass to Smith-Marsette and also gained 8 yards on a sneak to the USC 3.
USC lost two fumbles late in the second half, including when a high shotgun snap went off Fink's hands, with Iowa's Kristian Welch recovering at the Trojans' 6.
“We've been in that situation with him before," Coach Clay Helton said of Fink. “He has absolutely excelled. Tonight just wasn't our night."
Iowa converted on Stanley's 6-yard TD pass to Brandon Smith to make it 42-24.
Iowa's Nick Niemann intercepted Fink and returned it 25 yards for a TD with 1:43 left.
Iowa's Tyrone Tracy Jr. scored on a 23-yard run on the game's first drive and USC answered with Slovis' 4-yard scoring pass to Drake London.
Slovis completed 22 of 30 passes for 260 yards.
USC: The loss probably won't sit well with fans who were unhappy when new athletic director Mike Bohn announced Dec. 4 that the embattled Helton would be retained. It's been a rough go for Helton ever since USC capped the 2016 season with a thrilling Rose Bowl win over Penn State. The Trojans were playing in their third Holiday Bowl in six seasons.
Iowa: Stanley became the fifth Iowa quarterback to start three bowl games. He won all three. Against USC, he was 18 of 27 for 213 yards.
There was a moment of silence before the national anthem for Fry. Iowa also paid tribute to Fry by removing the Tigerhawk decals from its helmets. Fry introduced the logo during his 20-year tenure, which included trips to the Holiday Bowl in 1986, 1987 and 1991.
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