TaxSlayer Bowl Preview: Can Josh Dobbs and Tennessee keep rolling against Iowa?
Iowa (7-5) vs. Tennessee (6-6)
Jan. 2, 3:20 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Iowa and Tennessee closed out the regular season on entirely different trajectories. The Hawkeyes dropped four of their last six games, a run that included home losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska by a combined five points. Kirk Ferentz’s crew entered the year with high expectations thanks to returning talent like quarterback Jake Rudock and a schedule that avoided Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. However, it finished with just seven victories. Tennessee, on the other hand, won three of its final four. It’s enjoying its first bowl berth and best record since 2010 under second-year coach Butch Jones.
• Keep an eye on: Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs. The sophomore slid into the starting role before a 45-42 overtime win at South Carolina on Nov. 1 and sparked the Volunteers to a strong regular-season finish. But the Hawkeyes rank 22nd in the nation in yards per pass attempt allowed (6.4) and 11th in opposing completion rate (52.1 percent). Dobbs, who averages just 6.9 yards per attempt, will be without big-play receivers Marquez North and Jason Croom. Can Tennessee make enough plays through the air against Iowa’s secondary?
• Did you know: Tennessee’s 25 bowl wins rank sixth all time, but the once-proud program hasn’t won a postseason game since the 2007 campaign. That year, under former coach Phillip Fulmer, the Vols topped Wisconsin 21-17 in the Outback Bowl. However, Tennessee’s postseason luck has turned sour. Heading into this season the program had more head coaches (three) than bowl appearances (two) since ’08. No current Volunteers player participated in the school’s last bowl game, a 30-27 double-overtime loss to North Carolina in the ’10 Music City Bowl.
• Final analysis: Rudock posted a strong season for Iowa, throwing for 2,404 yards with 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He threw six of those touchdowns during his team’s final three games, including a 311-yard outing in a 26-24 loss to Wisconsin on Nov. 22. When Rudock and tailback Mark Weisman are clicking, the Hawkeyes can be dangerous. But Tennessee was a different offense with Dobbs in the lineup. The Vols averaged 35 points per game over their last four, and for the first time in a long time they have postseason momentum. Dobbs’ dual-threat game will keep Iowa’s defense searching for answers.
• The pick: Tennessee 24, Iowa 14