Iowa v. Tennessee
EverBank Field — Jacksonville, FL
January 2, 2015 — 3:20 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
It’s the last game of the season between the Big Ten and SEC, which could be significant for conference pride depending on which team wins the Sugar Bowl the previous evening. This game is effectively the old Gator Bowl by a different name, and it’ll be your last chance to watch football in the Sunshine State for months. Both teams had young defenses that matured as the season went on, and this game could serve as a building block for bigger goals next season. Once this game is over there are only five more college games left this season, so don’t miss out on one of the few remaining opportunities to watch meaningful contests before the long drought of competition strikes.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Iowa was supposed to be a contender in the reconfigured Big Ten West, ready to push Wisconsin and Nebraska for the division title. Despite a 5-1 start that was blemished only by a three-point loss to in-state rival Iowa State, the Hawkeyes fell to Maryland and Minnesota before they even got to play the Badgers or Cornhuskers. When the opportunity arose, they lost by a combined five points to those teams, missing out on a statement opportunity to end the regular season on a two-game losing streak. Quarterback Jake Rudock was decent if not otherworldly, finishing the year with 2400 passing yards that included 16 touchdowns and just five picks. The rushing game ranked just 73rd nationally, though, and Iowa was 70th in the country with 28 points per game. The defense saved the Hawkeyes several times, allowing just 335 yards and 24 points per game to keep Iowa in most contests.
The Volunteers were one of the youngest teams in the nation, bringing back just 10 returning starters from the 2013 roster. By the beginning of November, a maturing crew was just 3-5. But wins in three of their last four games secured the first bowl invitation for Tennessee since 2010. Offense was a scarce commodity for the Vols this year, with senior quarterback Justin Worley throwing for less than 1600 yards, 12 touchdowns, and eight interceptions for a passing attack that ranked 67th nationally in yards per game. The ground game was even worse, with Tennessee averaging only 135 rushing yards per game to rank among the 20 worst teams in the country in the category. Like Iowa, Butch Jones’ crew depended on its defense to reach bowl eligibility. The Vols defense gave up 360 yards and 24 points per game against the nation’s seventh-toughest schedule.
What is Likely to Happen
Iowa and Tennessee will both bring decent defenses to Jacksonville on the Friday after New Year’s, so it will really come down to which team has a greater chance of cracking the opposing defense to put the decisive points on the scoreboard. The Hawkeyes gave up fewer turnovers, but they had a lower turnover margin than Tennessee thanks to the Volunteers’ propensity for generating fumbles and interceptions. Iowa has a veteran offense that should limit its turnovers, though, which gives Kirk Ferentz’s team the better chance at claiming the win. Rudock will play his fourth straight game with at least two touchdowns through the air, and the Hawkeye secondary will prevent Worley and crew from getting comfortable.
Iowa 24, Tennessee 21