JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Live updates from the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., as the Vols and Hawkeyes face off at 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN.
• Senior cornerback Riyahd Jones is not dressing out and won’t be available for the game.
• Scouts from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers are in attendance at EverBank Field.
• Based on pregame warm-ups, it looks like Kenny Bynum might get the start at inside linebacker over Jakob Johnson. Emmanuel Moseley, Justin Coleman and Cam Sutton got the first-team reps at CB in the nickel look and LaDarrell McNeil and Brian Randolph appear to be the starting safeties.
• Offensively, it looks like Vic Wharton, Von Pearson and Pig Howard will be the starters at receiver. Jacob Gilliam continues to work with the starting offensive line, though he is wearing a large wrap on his injured left hand.
• It’s an overwhelmingly pro-UT crowd that is gathering at the stadium. TaxSlayer Bowl officials have confirmed that over 60,000 tickets have been sold for this game, and it looks like a large majority of those in attendance will be wearing orange.
• The game-time weather will be approximately 70 degree with scattered clouds and a light breeze.
First Quarter (Vols up 21-0):
Tennessee deferred and Iowa took the ball first. The Hawkeyes had a nice completion to receiver Tevaun Smith, who broke a Cam Sutton tackle and took it to midfield. The Vols bowed up there, getting a tackle for loss from Curt Maggitt to help make the stop and force the punt, that barely rolled into the end zone. We saw a lot of 4-3 from the Vols early with Kenny Bynum getting the start at inside linebacker. The Vols took over on offense from the 20 and the offense was clicking. The Vols moved 80 yards in just over three minutes, using short passes and a variety of runs to keep the Hawkeyes off balance. A jet sweep to Pig Howard around the left end with good blocking from tight ends Brendan and Ethan Wolf set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Jalen Hurd to put UT on the board first.
Iowa brought in backup quarterback C.J. Beathard (from Franklin, Tenn.) on the next drive. The Hawkeyes moved the ball again, making it inside UT’s 40. But Tennessee’s defensive line stiffened up there, getting a stop on third and 2 and then fourth and 1 to force the turnover on downs. The Vols went to the ground again on the next drive and this time it was a 29-yard touchdown run by Hurd that capped off UT’s second scoring drive.
Iowa got the ball back, went three and out, shanked a punt and the Vols took over just inside the 50. It took just one play and 13 seconds for Tennessee to go up 21-0 as Butch Jones dialed up a perfect trick play – a backwards pass to Marlin Lane, who then pulled up and hit a wide open Vic Wharton for a 49-yard score to give the Vols the 21-0 edge and all the momentum.
Overall, just a perfect start for Tennessee. Virtually everything clicked in the first quarter. Jalen Hurd is running circles around the Hawkeyes, the coaching has been great and the defense has bent a couple times, but came up with big plays when needed. Hard to ask for much better of a start.
Second Quarter (Vols up 35-7):
It wasn’t quite as dominant as the first quarter, but the Vols were able to do enough to extend their lead lead to 28 heading into halftime. Joshua Dobbs scored on a miraculous 8-yard scramble to start the quarter when he slipped multiple Iowa defenders in the backfield and exploded up the field into the end zone.
The Vols would punt on their second drive of the quarter, which would set up Iowa’s lone touchdown of the half as running back Mark Weisman punched it in from three yards out. The drive was aided by a personal foul on Derek Barnett and a defensive holding penalty on Jalen Reeves-Maybin that negated a Cam Sutton interception, but, other than that, it was a really strong quarter for Vol defenders.
Tennessee would get the ball back once more with 3:43 remaining in the half, and the Vols would use 3:22 of it before Joshua Dobbs hit Von Pearson at the pylon for a 19-yard touchdown. Dobbs would finish the first half 11-of-12 through the air for 81 yards and a touchdown, while also adding five carries for an additional 51 yards and another score. Jalen Hurd leads Tennessee ball-carriers with 10 rushes for 97 yards and two scores at the break, while Von Pearson’s six snags for 59 yards and a touchdown lead all players.
It’s hard to imagine a first half going much better for Tennessee, but minor injuries to Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen are worth noting as we head into the break.
Third Quarter (Vols up 42-7):
The third quarter may not have had the energy and enthusiasm of the first half, but Tennessee continued to take care of business, even if it wasn’t quite as pretty. After exchanging a few possessions without a score, Joshua Dobbs wrapped up a 9-play, 75 yard drive that took 3:13 off the clock, with an 11-yard touchdown around right end to put the Vols up 42-7 midway through the quarter.
One of the few negative points of this game was a third-down drop by Josh Malone that ended one drive early in the third. The freshman has been battling some mental and physical issues this year and this game was viewed as a chance for him to make some strides, but, at least to this point, he hasn’t yet.
Iowa’s drive after Dobbs’ second rushing touchdown stalled when a fumbled snap was lost near midfield and recovered by Brian Randolph. But the Vols gave it back a few plays later when Dobbs’ pass to Von Pearson went through his hands and was intercepted and returned into UT territory. The Vols returned the favor, however, when LaDarrell McNeil intercepted C.J. Beathard in the end zone at the 2:25 mark of the quarter to keep Iowa out of the end zone.
It wasn’t a beautiful quarter of football by any stretch, but it didn’t have to be. Iowa scored on a Weisman TD run early in the quarter to make it 42-14. An on-side kick by Iowa was recovered by Todd Kelly Jr. and an 11-play, 34 yard drive result in an Aaron Medley field goal. Tennessee called off the dogs a little bit from that drive onward and, rightfully, played it safe.
Nathan Peterman and a host of Vols subs handled the final two drives and Iowa scored two garbage time touchdowns to make the score appear significantly more respectable than it really was.
With the victory, the Vols finished the season with a 7-6 record – their first winning record since 2009.
Joshua Dobbs was an efficient 16/21 for for 129 yards and one touchdown (with one tipped interception). He also carried the ball 13 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns and earned game MVP honors. Jalen Hurd joined him with a massive day on the ground with 16 carries for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Tennessee, despite calling off the dogs in the 4th quarter, amassed 461 yards against an Iowa team that ranked 18th nationally in total defense and only allowed 334 yards per game this season.
More coverage coming.