IOWA CITY, Iowa - Fred Russell was a master of hide and seek during his time as an Iowa running back. Standing 5 feet 9 inches tall, he knew how to hide behind his offensive line, wait for something to open up and then pop through the gap and use his speed and balance to get upfield.
Iowa’s one-sided victory over the Gators at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., was a case of too much Russell. He was named the game’s most valuable player after rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown in 21 carries, spearheading an effort that brought the Hawkeye program its first January bowl victory in four tries and 45 years.
“I was calling him Mighty Mouse all game,” Florida linebacker Channing Crowder said of Russell. “He’s as quick as a cat and is a great little running back. He makes their line look really good. The line just gets on one side and starts pushing and if there’s a crack, he’s going to find it.”
One of Russell’s escorts was Outland Trophy winner and future first-round NFL draft pick Robert Gallery.
“I apologize to Florida fans,” Florida Coach Ron Zook said. “I did not have my team prepared to play. I felt like we had great practices, but we didn’t play like it. That’s my responsibility.”
Russell was a marked man on Florida’s scouting report, but defenders tackled wind about as often as they lassoed the diminutive speedster from Inkster, Mich.
“You’re in your gap, and he’s such a quick guy that you get out of your gap and then come back, and he’s able to get where you’re supposed to be,” said Zook, who was fired by the Gators a year later and became the head coach at Illinois in 2005.
Florida threw the game’s first punch. Quarterback Chris Leak, who had also been recruited by Iowa, gave the Gators a 7-0 lead when he found wide receiver Kelvin Knight for a 70-yard touchdown.
Iowa’s answer? Thirty-seven of the game’s next 40 points.
“They surprised us in all aspects of the game,” said Florida all-America tight end Ben Troupe, who didn’t have a catch. “I think we kind of took them lightly.”
Russell shared the offensive headlines with quarterback Nathan Chandler, who completed 13 of 25 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a score.
After falling behind early, Chandler evened things up with a 3-yard touchdown strike to Maurice Brown. That was one of Brown’s six receptions for 96 yards. Iowa took the lead for good on Nate Kaeding’s 47-yard field goal in the first minute of the second quarter and never looked back. Chandler’s 5-yard run and a 32-yard Kaeding field goal made it 20-7 at halftime.
Matt Melloy’s blocked punt and recovery in the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown, followed by a back-breaking 34-yard touchdown run by Russell, made it 34-10 with a quarter to go.
The touchdown was vintage Russell. He zipped through a hole provided by right guard Pete McMahon, cut left and outran two Florida defenders for the touchdown in his final game as a Hawkeye. Russell finished with 2,760 career rushing yards, which ranks sixth all-time behind
only Sedrick Shaw (4,156), Ladell Betts (3,686), Albert Young (3,173), Tavian Banks (2,977) and Akrum Wadley (2,872).
Iowa rushed for 238 yards, to 57 for the Gators. The Hawkeye defense silenced Leak after his fast start, limiting him to 22 completions in 41 attempts. Seventy of his 268 passing yards came on the game’s opening touchdown. Leak was also sacked three times. He didn’t get his team in the end zone again until throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Baker with 1:51 to play.
“They were tough and aggressive, just like we thought they’d be,” Leak said of the Iowa defense. “We never really felt comfortable with our offense after that long pass.”
Iowa completed the season with a 10-3 record, and finished eighth in the final Associated Press poll for a second straight year. The Hawkeyes won 21 of 26 games over those two seasons.
“They had too much for us in every aspect of the game,” said Florida all-America cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who didn’t start because of a curfew violation. “I think they had a little more speed than we thought.”
Other Victories Over No. 17
No. 11 Iowa 24, No. 17 Michigan State 21, East Lansing, Mich., Oct. 4, 1986. Iowa 40, No. 17 Nebraska 10, Iowa City, Nov. 25, 2016.