When: Jan. 2; 3:20pm EST
Where: Jacksonville, FL; EverBank Field (67,164)
Spread: Tennessee – 3.5 (via VegasInsider.com)
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Last Meeting: Tennessee Win, 23-22 (1987)
Gift Bag: Panasonic gift suite; Fossil watch (courtesy sportsbusinessdaily.com)
Preview: (by Dave Fitzgerald)
After the extravaganza of Big Ten bowl games that greets us on January 1 (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State fill four of the five slots on the schedule), only one more game will remain for the conference. Unless OSU pulls an upset and makes the championship game, the Hawkeyes will hold the final word in Big Ten football in the 2014 season.
Unfortunately for the conference, there are a lot of questions about whether Iowa cares to be back in Florida for a second-straight bowl season following a disappointing 7-5 season. Meanwhile, Tennessee won 3 out of 4 games in November to rally to a first bowl appearance in four years. Butch Jones and Volunteer country are definitely motivated and excited to be here to try and close out a winning record, while the difference between 8-5 and 7-6 for Iowa is just how much malaise will be floating around Iowa City this offseason.
So the intangibles definitely seem to be favoring Tennessee, but will the 6-6 team on the field live up to the lofty expectations?
Statistically, these two teams are fairly evenly matched, although Iowa does generate about 35 yards more offense per game. Kirk Ferentz would prefer to establish the run first, but starting quarterback Jake Rudock has consistently put up 200 to 300 yards in the passing game to pace the offense. Rudock most often targets Tevaun Smith and Kevonte Martin-Manley, both of whom could create some mismatches against the Volunteers secondary.
Don’t be surprised if backup quarterback C.J. Beathard sees some playing time, just to provide a change of pace, especially if things are not developing well early. Beathard likely has more natural talent, but Rudock is the proven leader of this offense and he will need to play well to keep the Hawkeyes in contention. Proper execution will be key, as dropped passes and poorly-run routes will be a sure recipe for another Iowa loss, just like at the end of the season.
The Hawkeyes will also try to establish the run against a Tennessee team which gives up about 160 yards per game on the ground. Mark Weisman is the only reliable option, though a bowl game would be a perfect opportunity to allow less experienced speedy backups to try and make some big plays.
If Weisman does receive most of the carries, it will be interesting to see if Iowa runs primarily through the center of the line and if Iowa’s offense line (led by Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff) can dominate the trenches to give Weisman room to operate. If Weisman reaches 100 rushing yards, Iowa probably beats the Volunteers easily. But that will be a tough task against a defense that has been battle tested against some similar running backs like Todd Gurley.
When Tennessee has the ball, the offense will run through sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who took over at the halfway point of the season for senior Justin Worley. Dobbs has proven to be a capable running threat, averaging over 4 yards per rush just like leading running back Jaled Hurd. Although Tennessee’s rushing numbers are not impressive overall, they have been better with Dobbs at the helm.
That may be a very good thing, as Iowa is one of the top 10 defenses in the country against the passing game. Expect Tennessee to focus even more than the Hawkeyes on establishing a running game and limiting mistakes on offense.
Iowa is incredibly strong on the defensive line and in the secondary, but there’s a huge problem at linebacker on this 2014 team. Expect Tennessee to try to continuously put those linebackers in open space having to make good tackles on running backs and receivers. As long as Tennessee is able to execute this game plan well, the Volunteers will likely make a couple more plays to make the difference in this game.
However, make no mistake: this game is up for grabs. If Iowa shows up motivated and ready to play well, the Hawkeyes could grab the Florida bowl win that eluded them a season ago against LSU.
Andy: Tennessee 34, Iowa 21
Dave: Tennessee 34, Iowa 24
Zach: Iowa 24, Tennessee 21