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

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Grading Iowa football’s Citrus Bowl performance against Tennessee

The Hawkeyes were shutout for the second straight game this season, falling to 10-3 on the year, as their passing offense continued to flounder amidst other areas of mediocrity.
Grace Smith
Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and Iowa quarterback Deacon Hill chat during the 2024 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl between No. 17 Iowa and No. 21 Tennessee at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. Hill threw seven completions on 18 attempts. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes, 35-0.

Passing offense: F

It’s beating a dead horse really at this point, but I’ll say it. An F would be the grade I would give the passing game for Iowa this season as a whole. It should be noted of course that Iowa’s offense was plagued with injuries for a majority of the season, losing Luke Lachey, Cade McNamara, and Erik All.

Still, this game was the perfect send-off to the dumpster fire that was Brian Ferentz’s time as offensive coordinator. Deacon Hill was inconsistent, going 7-of-18 for 56 yards and two interceptions; one being into double coverage during the second possession of the game while Iowa was in the red zone. Tennessee’s defense brought the pressure and it worked, mustering five sacks as Iowa was put in the uncomfortable position of passing its way out of a 20-plus point deficit. 

Rushing offense: D-

This would have been an F if it wasn’t for Lainez entering the game and scrambling for his life all the way to 51 total rushing yards for the day, which was good enough to lead the team even though he only played two drives. Iowa’s run game couldn’t get anything going despite having five different running backs touch the ball.

Wide receivers Nico Ragaini and Kaleb Brown got turns on respective end-arounds, but none seemed to get any momentum as the team averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. When the game was still competitive, Iowa’s tendency to operate under center in a heavy formation became very predictable once the passing game proved to be ineffective. 

Passing defense: C

One of the highlights for Iowa Monday was the defensive line’s ability to get to Tennessee backup quarterback Nico Iamaleava, sacking the true freshman six times with sixth-year senior Joe Evans accounting for four of those in his final game as a Hawkeye.

Iamaleava did perform well when needed, completing 63 percent of his tosses for 151 yards as Phil Parker’s secondary gave up a couple of unprecedented big plays to receivers Ramel Keyton and Squirrell White. There were some plays when Iowa’s blitzes seemed to take long to develop, as an inexperienced Iamaleava broke the pocket and made plays either with his feet or arm. 

Rushing defense: D

Tennesse ran for 232 yards without its three leading rushers in running backs Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small, as well as quarterback Joe Milton III. In their place were Iamaleava and running back Dylan Sampson accounting for 27 and 133 yards, respectively (Iamaleava’s sacks took a dip into his rushing yardage.)

Tennessee also took advantage of Iamaleava on designed quarterback runs like they did during the regular season, with the freshman scoring three of his own. To the defense’s credit, it was put in bad positions by turnovers and constant three-and-outs by the offense.   

Special teams: B 

Tory Taylor capped off a successful career at Iowa by breaking the single-season record for most punt yards in a season with 4,479. It was a punt-o-mania once again for the Black and Gold as Taylor and Co. trotted out seven times for a total of 360 yards, averaging 51.4 yards per boot.

Backup defensive backs Koen Entrigner and John Nestor each had key tackles on the punt team that pinned the Volunteers deep in their own territory. Meanwhile, wide receiver Kaden Wetjen struggled in the return game, returning just two punts for negative seven yards.

Coaching: C+

We weren’t given as big a sample size as required, but Marco Lainez’s ability to make something out of nothing, rushing for 51 yards on only two drives, indicates that the true freshman maybe should have gotten more snaps earlier in the season when Hill was struggling. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s inability to string together plays of 10 yards or more continued in this game, seemingly not making the most out of his final opportunity to run the offense for the Black and Gold by opening up the playbook in the slightest.

Also, head coach Kirk Ferentz failed to call a time-out after Tennessee appeared to fumble the ball on a tackle from Jay Higgins near the end zone in the second quarter. This would have given replay officials more time to consider a review. Doing so could’ve potentially saved a touchdown as Tennessee would go on to score on that drive. 

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About the Contributors
Cooper Worth
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.