TAMPA — It has been nearly nine years since Iowa and LSU last met in football. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa's coach for 14 years, remembers that day vividly.
The Hawkeyes were playing the defending national champion Tigers in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando after the 2004 season. With 46 seconds left, LSU WR Skyler Green caught a touchdown pass from QB Jamarcus Russell to take a 25-24 lead.
Game over? Hawkeyes QB Drew Tate had a different idea.
On the final play, Tate hurled a 56-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to WR Warren Holloway. Holloway had spent his first three years on the bench or filling in on special teams. "It took him about four years to learn how to line up," Ferentz laughed.
But as time expired, Holloway's only career touchdown gave Iowa a 30-25 stunner.
These days, Tate is a quarterback with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Holloway is out of football and in the working world, Ferentz said. The catch remains one of the greatest moments in Iowa history.
"I really thought we had our work cut out, but our guys played almost a flawless game that day," Ferentz said. "My guess is that's probably what it will take this time around as well."
Hawkeyes turnaround: It was a working Christmas for the Iowa coaching staff. And that's just the way Ferentz likes it.
The Hawkeyes, who arrived in Tampa on Tuesday, are making their first bowl appearance since falling to Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. Last year, Iowa's season ended with a 13-7 loss to Nebraska, finishing 4-8 for its worst record in 12 years.
"It was by far the longest Christmas break I can ever remember," Ferentz said. "You can only sit by the fireplace for so long."
Iowa got off to a 3-4 start this season, then finished by winning four of the last five, including a come-from-behind victory against Michigan. The four teams Iowa lost to this season — Ohio State, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan State — have six regular-season losses combined.
"They never got dismayed," Ferentz said about his much-improved team. "They kept plugging along, and we turned the corner and had a very good season."
Another 10 for Tigers? LSU is making its 14th consecutive bowl appearance, and its first in the Outback Bowl since the 1988 season. A win would give the three-time national champion Tigers their fourth straight season with at least 10 wins.
LSU's victories against BCS Championship-bound Auburn and Texas A&M are impressive, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron admits. But the sum of all their wins, not to mention hitting a program benchmark, means more than individual victories.
"Any time, at any level, if you can win double-digit times, that speaks volumes to your current program," Cameron said, "and equally as important, if not more, to where you're program is headed."