Austin Appleby’s first game at the college level came against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
His last game will be against them, too.
On Jan. 2, Appleby will lead No. 20 Florida’s offense one final time when the Gators face No. 21 Iowa in the Outback Bowl in Tampa.
It’s an opportunity for Appleby, the graduate transfer from Purdue, to end his one-year career at UF on a high note by defeating a team he faced three years in a row at Purdue.
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And it’s an opportunity for the Gators to avoid entering the offseason on a three-game losing skid for the second straight year under coach Jim McElwain.
“We’ve been challenged,” Appleby said after practice Thursday. “If you want to play and you want to go ahead and do this thing, let’s go. Let’s be all in and beat a great opponent. I don’t think you go into a game wanting to lose or not wanting to give everything that we’ve got.”
And Appleby knows what it will take to compete against Iowa — a Big Ten opponent highlighted by a physical defense.
The 6-4, 240-pound quarterback played in three games against the Hawkeyes when he was at Purdue, all in a backup capacity and all losses. In those three games, Appleby threw for 338 yards on a 55.8-percent completion rate (29-for-52) with two touchdowns and an interception. The highlight of the games was a 40-20 loss in 2015 in which Appleby threw for 259 yards and a touchdown after replacing starter David Blough.
Iowa went undefeated that season before losing to Michigan State in the conference championship and to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
This season, Iowa is 8-4 and is riding a three-game win streak heading into the bowl game, a streak that started when the Hawkeyes upended then-No. 3 Michigan 14-13.
“There’s this stigma around here that the Big Ten is the SEC’s little brother. … That is not the case,” Appleby said. “This is a good, good team that’s well coached, and I think they’re picked to beat us — so you have to take that, if you’re any sort of competitor, you take that personally.”
Florida is 3-3 in the six games Appleby has started this year, five of which have been on the road. The quarterback has completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,225 yards and has eight touchdowns to five interceptions.
“Austin’s done a good job since he’s started playing,” McElwain said. “Obviously there are some throws that he’d like back but at the same time this late in the year he deserves it.”
Seven UF players, including six starters, are out at least for the start of practices. They are: linebackers Jarrad Davis (ankle) and David Reese (wrist), safety Nick Washington (ankle), cornerback Duke Dawson, defensive linemen Bryan Cox (leg) and Antonneous Clayton (arm), and offensive lineman Martez Ivey. That list doesn’t include redshirt junior linebacker Alex Anzalone and redshirt senior safety Marcus Maye, both of whom had surgery during the season.
“We’ll step some guys in there and start working some of those pieces there as we get going for the bowl game,” McElwain said Tuesday, adding that he’ll know more about their status for the bowl game on Monday.