Vols seek to overcome lack of bowl experience
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee is entering unfamiliar territory.
Although the Volunteers are preparing for their 50th bowl appearance in school history, nobody on their current roster has ever played a down in a bowl game. The Vols (6-6) look forward to changing that Jan. 2 when they face Iowa (7-5) at Jacksonville, Florida, in the TaxSlayer Bowl, a game formerly known as the Gator Bowl.
''It's really huge,'' Tennessee offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. ''It's a monkey off your back.''
Tennessee's fifth-year seniors were part of the 2010 team that lost 30-27 to North Carolina in double overtime in the 2010 Music City Bowl. But none of them actually played in the game.
That lack of postseason experience represents a major contrast with Iowa, which is making its 12th bowl appearance in the last 14 seasons.
''It's our job to continue to educate them on the bowl process,'' Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. ''There isn't anyone who can really step up in a room who has participated in a bowl who can step up and say, `This is how you handle yourselves.' ''
The Vols say they'll be relying on their coaching staff's bowl experience.
Jones reached a bowl game each of his three seasons at Central Michigan and in two of his three seasons at Cincinnati, though he actually coached in only three of those five bowl games. Tennessee defensive line coach Steve Stripling, an assistant on Jones' staffs at Central Michigan and Cincinnati, served as interim head coach for the other two bowl games.
''Our coaching staff, obviously they're experienced in bowls,'' Tennessee defensive tackle Jordan Williams said. ''I'm sure they know that we might get caught up a little in all the excitement. I trust their preparation in getting us ready to play in this bowl.''
The time off before the bowl game should give Tennessee time to get healthy. Junior center Mack Crowder is expected back after missing Tennessee's final two regular-season games with a knee sprain and high ankle sprain. Freshman running back Jalen Hurd also should play in the bowl game after missing most of the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt with was described as an upper body extremity injury.
Tennessee goes into this game with more momentum than Iowa. The Vols became bowl eligible by winning three of their last four regular-season games. Iowa fell short of preseason expectations and has lost its last two games.
''Anybody that's ever competed, I think, would understand we're disappointed,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. ''And we want to do better.''
Ferentz said Iowa's goal during these next few weeks would be to improve so that it's playing its best football in the bowl game. Tennessee must make sure it remains motivated now that it finally has earned a bowl invitation.
''It's hard not to be satisfied with that because that was our goal, to be in a bowl game,'' Kerbyson said. ''But we look at it as we didn't do it in the prettiest way. It wasn't a nine-win, 10-win season. It was a six-win (season). We just got there. That keeps us level-headed and keeps us humble going in.''