Easley leads Iowa to Outback Bowl victory

by Gary Shelton on January 2, 2019 · 0 comments

in general

Nick Easley took over the Outback Bowl/STEVEN MUNCIE

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

It's easy to have a problem with the college bowl season.

There are too many games. There are too many players skipping games with their eyes on the NFL's money. There are too many mediocre teams playing in too many empty stadiums just so the television networks will have a program to show.

And then a kid like Nick Easley makes you smile, and suddenly, there is a reason to continue to watch.

Easley, a walk-on receiver for Iowa, turned the Outback Bowl into his own highlight show Tuesday afternoon as the Hawkeyes beat Mississippi State, 27-22 in one of the

Easley caught two touchdown passes./STEVEN MUNCIE

day's more interesting contests. Iowa won even though the Bulldogs held them to minus 15 yards rushing on the day.

Part of the reason was Easley, who caught eight passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns to win the game MVP award. One of those was a 75-yard catch.

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Chauncey Rivers celebrates after stopping Iowa./STEVEN MUNCIE

"There's not a lot of places where a guy like me could come in, two years of eligibility left, walking on from junior college," Easley said. "No one really knows who I am, and they gave me every shot in the world to compete, just as much as a scholarship guy, and I'll be forever thankful for that."

Iowa turned three takeaways into 17 points, which led their way to victory.

No, no one was crying that they should have been in the playoffs, and no one had the NFL scouts on speed-deal. But it was an interesting matchup, and it was competitive.

In the other Bowls? Grade them for drama:

Grade A: Sugar Bowl: Texas 28, Georgia 14: The Bulldogs spent most of the last month whining they belonged in the national title game. They spent Tuesday night proving they didn't. In a major "shut-up" game, the Longhorns dominated Georgia. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger ran for three touchdowns.

Grade B: The Outback Bowl: Iowa 27, Mississippi State 22: The Bulldogs kicked field goals. The Hawkeyes scored touchdowns.

Grade C: Citrus Bowl: Kentucky 27, Penn State 24. Benny Snell Jr. ran for 144 yards to lead the Wildcats to victory. Penn State outscored Kentucky 17-0 in the fourth period to make it close.

Nate Stanley threw for 214 yards./STEVEN MUNCIE

Grade D: Fiesta Bowl: LSU 40, UCF 32: The game was more interesting for who wasn't here than for who was. LSU was missing nine defensive starters after getting two players ejected, and UCF was without quarterback McKenzie Milton. LSU ended UCF's 25-game winning streak by dominating play (555 yards of offense, 44:31 minutes of possession time), but the Knights stayed close by frustrating the Tigers in the red zone.

Grade F: Rose Bowl: Ohio State 28, Washington 23: Urban Meyer called it a career (for now) by watching the Buckeyes' playmakers get off to a great start in beating  the Huskies. Don't be fooled by the final score. It was 28-3 going into the fourth quarter. Dwayne Haskins threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns.

Ah, but how many games had the human drama of Easley. He's the perfect example

Mississippi State's Fitzgerald is tackled by Parker Hesse./STEVEN MUNCIE

that college football isn't about No. 1 draft picks and all-Americans. It's about no-name kids from nowhere catching 75-yard touchdowns.

"There's a couple different options on that play," Easley said. "There are a couple different places where the ball could go but with the play action and how aggressive their defense is, they kind of bit on that a little bit, bit on the play fake, and luckily Nate was able to find me. He did a really good job, by him seeing me down the seam and put a really good ball on me."

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz remembers the first time he met Easley.

"Ironically, first time I talked to Nick, I was in the same room I slept in the last six nights," Ferentz said. And I never met Nick, didn't know much about him. Tyler Barnes had put us in touch with each other, and just you know, asked if he'd be interested in being a Hawkeye.

Chauncey Golston celebrates an interception./STEVEN MUNCIE

He was heading to another school at that point and I'm sure glad he kept an open mind. He gave us an opportunity to talk and visit a little bit, and he came and joined our program.

So we're so, so thrilled about it. Sometimes dumb luck is a really good thing in recruiting and that's really the essence of that whole thing.

In other words, you could see everything wrong about college football on display on Sunday -- Urban Meyer's controversy, seniors skipping the games, Georgia's whining, UCF's fiction.

And you could see Easley, the kid who worked his way into a starring role. He'll remember this year's bowls long after most of us have forgotten.

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