Like a bad habit, the Iowa Hawkeyes just won’t go away. For one last time this season, they’re set to take the field this afternoon and we’ll all be watching eagerly to see if they were able to use the last four weeks to improve on the offensive side of the ball.
When we last saw Iowa on the field, they failed to score even a single point against Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game. It was another in a growing string of offensive blunders with QB Deacon Hill fumbling twice, taking his season total to 13 turnovers in 8.5 games as Iowa’s starter. For Iowa to be competitive today, Hill and the rest of the Hawkeyes will need to take care of the football and avoid setting up Tennessee with easy scoring opportunities.
The Volunteers enter the day at 8-4 overall and averaging more than 30 points per game on the season. Their offense has been potent most of the season with both a strong running game and a high-powered passing game. But it’s also been nearly shut down in the handful of games Tennessee has faced off with high end defenses.
Despite topping 30 points in seven games this season, the Volunteers were held to 20 or fewer points in their five other matchups this season, including 16, 20, 7 and 10 points in losses to Florida, Alabama, Missouri and Georgia respectively. Iowa will mark the best scoring and total defense Tennessee has faced this season.
Not only that, but that high-powered Volunteer offense heads to Orlando with some newfound question marks. Starting QB Joe Milton and starting RB Jaylen Wright have both opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft, as has #2 RB Jabari Small. Tennessee is thus left leaning on true freshman QB Nico Iamaleava. While he entered the SEC as a top-5 prospect nationally, he’s still a true freshman making his first career start against Phil Parker’s defense.
Will that be enough for the Hawkeyes, who seemingly find new ways to avoid scoring from week to week? Or will the Iowa offense be forced to find some points of their own?
That wasn’t the case a year ago when the Hawks held Kentucky scoreless with the defense coming away with points of their own. If Iowa does need to find some points with the offense, however, the pressure will be on Hill.
The Volunteers enter the day ranked 21st nationally in rushing defense, giving up just under 114 yards per game on the ground and 3.2 yards per carry. The pass defense, however, ranks 81st nationally giving up nearly 235 yards per game through the air. And that was at full strength. Tennessee will be playing today without six of their top seven defensive backs, including starting safety Wesley Walker, starting nickel Tamarion McDonald and starting corner Doneiko Slaughter. Add in the transfer of starting defensive end Tyler Baron and if Iowa could muster a pulse in the passing game they should find success.
Key Tennessee Opt-Outs, Transfers, Injuries
- QB Joe Milton
- RB Jaylen Wright
- RB Jabari Small
- DE Tyler Baron (Transfer)
- Nickel Tamarion McDonald (Transfer)
- S Wesley Walker (Transfer)
- CB Doneiko Slaughter (Transfer)
- CB Brandon Turnage (Transfer)
- OL Addison Nichols (Transfer)
- OL Javontez Spraggins (Injury)
- LB Keenan Pili (Injury)
- LB Arion Carter (Injury)
- WR Bru McCoy (Injury)
- WR Dont’e Thornton (Injury)
- CB Kamal Hadden (Injury)
- OL John Campbell (QUESTIONABLE — Injury)
As we countdown to kickoff, here’s everything you need to know about today’s matchup.
Date: Monday, January 1st
Time: 12:00 pm CT
Matchup: #17 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-3, 7-2) vs #21 Tennessee Volunteers (8-4, 4-4)
Location: Camping World Stadium - Orlando, FL
DraftKings Sportsbook Line: Tennessee -5.5, O/U 36
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Keep an eye out for the availability report, which is set to be published around 5:00 pm CT. Recall that’s a new item in the Big Ten this season with availability reported two hours before game time.