Florida running back Mark Thompson caught the screen pass from Austin Appleby late in the second quarter and proceeded upfield.
He made an Iowa defender miss at the line of scrimmage, Florida’s 15-yard line, before sprinting down the left sideline.
And then the 6-2, 237-pound running back ran through another tackler three yards later before taking to the left sideline. He broke another tackle five yards after that. And then he broke through two more before carrying another defender as he dove into the end zone.
After being a non-factor for the majority of Florida’s season, Thompson’s 85-yard catch-and-run touchdown to close out the first half gave the 20th-ranked Gators a rare offensive spark in Monday’s Outback Bowl.
It proved to be just the start for the Gators as they left Raymond James Stadium with a 30-3 win over No. 21 Iowa in front of an announced crowd of 51,119.
The touchdown pass was the longest reception in Outback Bowl history and Florida’s second-longest play from scrimmage this season, behind Appleby’s 98-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland against LSU.
The Gators (9-4) also scored on a six-yard touchdown pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby late in the third quarter that capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive. Appleby finished the game with 222 yards on 14-of-25 passing and the two touchdown passes but also threw a pair of interceptions on Florida’s first two drives, the second of which resulted in a 36-yard field goal for Iowa. Florida’s offense as a whole racked up 331 yards, its first time eclipsing the 300-yard mark since Nov. 12 against South Carolina.
The Gators’ banged-up, injury-depleted defense did the rest to close the game out, holding Iowa to 226 yards, including just 112 in the second half.
Freshman cornerback Chauncey Gardner effectively iced the game with two early fourth-quarter interceptions -- the first of which he returned 58 yards for a touchdown, the second setting up a 25-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro. Linebacker Daniel McMillian picked off a third pass less than four minutes later to set up a 48-yard field goal.