Editor’s note: For games this season, Daniel Lewis will put together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written in first person from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.
Offense: Iowa is clearly a more talented team than Vanderbilt, but one thing we learned against the Commodores was that we were able to grind our way to a win leaning primarily on the running game when the passing game wasn’t working. We may have to take some of those principles into this game against Iowa.
Our passing game should be better. The time off should help. We’ve corrected some things that Joshua Dobbs did poorly at Vanderbilt and we have players like Von Pearson, Pig Howard and Ethan Wolf rested and back at 100% healthy. But Iowa doesn’t give much up through the air, coming into this game with a top-10 nationally ranked passing defense that gives up just under 176 yards per game. That means we can’t rely on chucking it around against the Hawkeyes. We’ll pick our spots and, more importantly, use the run game to set that up.
Iowa is a bit more vulnerable in its rushing defense, coming in 57h nationally in that category. We saw how challenging it is to run the ball without Jalen Hurd in our offense, but he should be good to go, so we’ll combine him with a healthier Marlin Lane and let Dobbs run as much as needed (he’s fresh too and it’s not like we’re going to need him next week for a game) to put together a rushing attack that will keep Iowa off balance. Iowa probably isn’t ready for Devrin Young either, so we’ll get him a few touches out of the backfield as well and see if he can stretch the defense out a little bit in his final collegiate football game.
We need more from our offensive line. That’s been a theme all season and it will need to step up to give us a good shot on Friday. We’ll need a contingency plan with Jacob Gilliam’s hand injury at right tackle. Coleman Thomas can slide in there or we can flip Kyler Kerbyson over from left tackle to right tackle and insert Brett Kendrick at left tackle. But with all Gilliam has gone through, it isn’t a stretch to think that he’ll figure out a way to battle for 60 minutes with just one knee and one hand.
Defense: Winning the battle at the line of scrimmage will be the key. Iowa’s offensive line is its strength, and it’s not just Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff, though he’s clearly the best of the bunch.
The Hawkeyes will have the size and experience edge up front, so we’ll need to use our athleticism to negate that. We need big afternoons from Derek Barnett, Curt Maggitt and Corey Vereen especially.
We’ll expect Iowa to play quarterback Jake Rudock, but we’ll be ready for backup C.J. Beathard as well, who has played in eight games and is pushing for more playing time. Both quarterbacks can make plays when given time. Rudock completed nearly 63% of his passes this season for 2,404 yards and he takes care of the football with 16 TDs to just five INTs.
We have a good chance to keep Iowa’s receivers from finding too much space if Justin Coleman and Emmanuel Moseley step up at corner. Tevaun Smith is the deep threat to watch and Kevonte Martin-Manley is the guy he looks to the most, however. Martin-Manley is closing in on the school record for receptions, so we know the QBs will be looking to feed him as well.
We need more from Jakob Johnson at inside linebacker. He struggled both in coverage and in getting off blocks at Vanderbilt. We’ll have Kenny Bynum in the mix as well and he’ll be ready to go if Johnson struggles.
As always, turnovers will be a big stat in this game. Iowa doesn’t turn it over a ton, but the Hawkeyes are -5 total on the year in turnover margin, so there will be some opportunities to take the football away and make some big plays that will help our young offense out.