The 2019 Holiday Bowl was widely expected to be one of the more intriguing non-New Year’s Six Bowl games and so far it’s lived up to the early billing. In a sharp — but quite fun — contrast of styles, Iowa’s ball control offense was every bit of a match for USC’s quick-strike Air Raid setup as the visitors from the midwest took a 28-17 lead into the halftime break from San Diego.
Hawkeyes QB Nate Stanley was an ever efficient 11-of-12 for 130 yards (1 TD) passing but was far from the center of the team’s offensive output. As has been the case for several games in the past few months for the team, wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette was all over the field and disabusing plenty of people about preconceived notions of Big Ten speed. He attempted a pass off a trick play, had 15 yards rushing and a trip to the end zone off a reverse plus breezed past a host of white shirts with a thrilling 98 yard kick return for a score. Oh, he also caught a 12 yard touchdown as well to complete the trifecta.
Iowa’s Ihmir Smith-Marsette is the 1st FBS player to score a TD via rush, reception AND kickoff return in a bowl game since Ole Miss RB Deuce McAllister in the 1998 Independence Bowl vs. Texas Tech.
— Jason Starrett (@starrettjason) December 28, 2019
For good measure, Tyrone Tracy also chipped in with a 23 yard rushing touchdown as Smith-Marsette’s theatrics were complimented nicely by a team that held the ball for 18 minutes in the first half.
USC had their own moments moving the ball even if it wasn’t enough to keep pace with Iowa. Freshman QB Kedon Slovis tossed a pair of touchdown throws despite facing a constant stream of pressure in his face, netting 144 yards as well through two quarters. Amon-Ra St. Brown didn’t score but did have six catches for 72 yards in a game where the opposing defense took a bit of time to adjust to his ability to find the open space.
As fun as the early action was from SDCCU Stadium though, perhaps the highlight of the night was the Hawkeyes bringing their fantastic tradition of ‘The Wave’ out West. At the end of first quarter, fans and players all stopped to wave at kids from local hospitals in the stands as well as to kids in Iowa City via the scoreboard.
It will be hard to top that moment in this year’s Holiday Bowl but Smith-Marsette and USC’s skill position players will surely try in the second half.