December 23, 2014

Iowa backpedaled into a disappointing postseason destination while Tennessee is thrilled to end a three-season bowl drought.

The Hawkeyes meet the Volunteers in the Taxslayer Bowl on Friday in Jacksonville in a matchup of teams that appear headed in opposite directions.

With a manageable schedule that included a home game against its only ranked opponent and a roster full of returning players including its starting quarterback, top running back and top receiver, Iowa was a popular preseason pick to reach the Big Ten championship game.

The Hawkeyes (7-5) finished fourth in their division, however, dropping four of their final six games and failing to defeat an FBS team with a record over .500.

"I'm not sure unacceptable would the word I would use," said coach Kirk Ferentz, who is 6-5 in bowl games, including 4-2 against current SEC teams. "We're disappointed, certainly, with the outcome of the last two ball games."

While the Hawkeyes are making their 12th bowl appearance in 14 seasons, Tennessee (6-6) is making its first since a 30-27 double-overtime loss to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl. No current Vols played a snap.

The program is aiming for its first bowl win since a 21-17 victory over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl following the 2007 season.

"It's our job to continue to educate them on the bowl process," 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.'"

Tennessee wasn't expected to reach a bowl in the second season of Jones' rebuilding job, facing a schedule with five ranked opponents and getting off to a 3-5 start. The Vols, though, won three of their last four, helping Jones earn a contract extension through 2020.

"It's hard not to be satisfied with that because that was our goal, to be in a bowl game," offensive lineman Kyler 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."

Iowa is looking to revive a running game that became stagnant as the season wound down, recording 84 yards on 30 carries in a 51-14 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 8. The Hawkeyes bounced back with a season-high 304 yards on the ground in the next week's victory at Illinois, but averaged 3.1 yards per carry over back-to-back season-ending losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Mark Weisman, the team leader with 802 rushing yards, hasn't found the end zone in three games after running for 14 TDs in the first nine.

The Hawkeyes are also looking for a quick start after totaling 29 first-half points in their last four games.

Tennessee pushed its scoring average from 23.9 to 35.0 over its final four games and figures to have a more cohesive running game. Freshman Jalen Hurd, who led the Volunteers with 777 rushing yards, will be back after an upper-body injury limited him to five carries in a 24-17 win over Vanderbilt on Nov. 29.

He'll also be able to run behind center Mack Crowder, who missed the final two games with knee and ankle injuries.

The Vols' 6.4 yards per passing attempt is among the lowest marks in the nation, and they could have a difficult time moving the ball through the air. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs is working with a depleted receiving corps as Marquez North (torn labrum) and Jason Croom (knee) - two of three receivers tied for the team lead with four TDs - are still unable to play.

The Iowa defense needs to do a better job of getting off the field after letting the final four opponents convert 28 of 59 third downs (47.5 percent). The unit held opponents to 31.1 percent in the previous eight contests.

"We know how good of a team we can be when we execute and we don't have missed assignments or errors," safety Jordan Lomax told the school's official website.

These teams have met twice, with Tennessee winning 23-22 in East Rutherford, New Jersey in the 1987 season opener. Iowa beat the Vols 28-22 in the 1982 Peach Bowl.

The Hawkeyes are 14-12-1 in bowls while Tennessee is 25-24.

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