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The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Five things to watch for ahead of Iowa football’s bowl matchup against Tennessee

While Hawkeye fans should keep an eye out for the Volunteers’ potent offense, but also as to how quarterback Deacon Hill looks against a strong pass rush and weak secondary.
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Cody Blissett
Michigan defensive end Derrick Moore sacks Iowa quarterback Deacon Hill to end the game during a football game between No. 18 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. The Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes, 26-0. Moore had one tackle.

1. Defending top-tier offense 

Giving up just 213 yards to Michigan last week in the Big Ten Championship game, Iowa’s defense extended its streak of letting up less than 400 opponent yards to 27 games – the longest active streak in the nation. Such dominance from coordinator Phil Parker’s unit will be put to the test in January against Tennessee. The Volunteers ranked 17th in the nation in total offense, averaging 453.5 yards per game, better than any other opponent the Hawkeyes have faced this season. 

Commanded by quarterback Joe Milton III’s 2,842 total yards, Tennessee does most of its damage in the run game, slotting in at second in the SEC with 202.6 rushing yards per game. Junior back Jaylen Wright averages 7.2 yards on a team-high 137 carries, totaling 1,013 yards and four touchdowns. Wright is joined by fellow running backs Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson with 450-plus yards on the ground on at least five yards per attempt this season. 

The Hawkeyes have proven they can limit rush-dependent teams like Rutgers and Michigan, but it will be interesting to see what they do against the Volunteers’ three-headed attack. 

2. Passing game 

While strong in the pass rush, Tennessee’s secondary is a noticeable area of weakness. Having lost starting cornerback Kamal Hadden back in October, the Volunteers have struggled to replace his absence, as Hadden is still tied for team-lead in interceptions with three. Ranking 10th in the SEC and 78th in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game, Tennessee will be a nice opportunity for Iowa to at least attempt some dynamic plays in the air. 

Obviously, throwing the ball is far from the Hawkeyes’ strong suit, as tight end Erick All still leads the team in receiving yards despite not having played since Oct. 21, but offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz really has nothing to lose in January. At the end of the day, the only way to prove passing prowess is to actually throw the ball downfield. 

3. Seth Anderson breakout 

Transferring to Iowa City from Charleston Southern, second-year wideout Seth Anderson started his Hawkeye debut with a bang –hauling in a 36-yard touchdown pass on his first-ever target in Iowa’s season-opening win over Utah State. That reception was one of two he had against the Aggies, leading to a 41-yard performance. 

Yet after Cade McNamara went down with injury in Week 5, Iowa’s offense has become more conservative, relying on the ground game and avoiding deep throws to vertical threats like Anderson. Such a shift can be seen in Anderson’s production, as he has just two catches of more than 10 yards after Iowa’s game against Michigan State. 

After Iowa starting wide receiver Diante Vines announced his transfer last week, Anderson will most likely receive more targets at the Citrus Bowl – a contest where he can make a statement to his talents and potential on the team. 

4. Avoiding pressure 

The Volunteers feature three defensive linemen with at least five sacks this season. Led by second-year  James Pearce Jr. with 8.5 while teammates Tyler Baron and Omarr Norman-Lott follow close behind with six and 5.5, respectively. Norman-Lott, an Arizona State transfer, has not played since Tennessee’s Nov. 18 loss to Georgia, and his injury status remains unclear for the Citrus Bowl. Baron also announced he will enter the transfer portal ahead of the bowl game, so he will also not be on the field in Orlando. Even still, the last thing the Hawkeyes need to do is take these potential absences lightly. 

Part of the reason for Iowa quarterback Deacon Hill’s two turnovers against Michigan was poor pass protection. Such cannot happen again if the Hawkeyes want to exploit the Volunteer secondary and reach the red zone for the first time since Week 13. 

5. Defensive line performance 

The future of Iowa’s defensive line unit took a hit when Hawkeye Anterio Thompson announced his decision to transfer last week. While not taking snaps on defense, Thompson has been a force on the special teams unit, racking two blocked punts this season that both led to Iowa touchdowns. 

Still just a sophomore, Thompson was bound to at least get in the D-line rotation next season, but with him not in the picture anymore, such potential production on the interior will have to be replaced by Aaron Graves, Yahya Black, and Deontae Craig, who will return next season while sixth-years Logan Lee and Joe Evans depart. How that trio performs against the Volunteers will be a sign of things to come in  2024.

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
he/him/his
Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.