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TaxSlayer Bowl marks last chance for Iowa

BY DANNY PAYNE | DECEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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In August, optimism about football was palpable in Iowa City, and some thought Iowa could play its way into the Big Ten championship game. After all, Iowa did have 13 returning starters from an 8-5 team and what looked like a favorable schedule.

Then came a loss to Iowa State in September, followed by a loss to Maryland in October, and losses to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska in November.

That optimism diminished quickly, and instead of playing Ohio State in Indianapolis for a conference title, the Hawkeyes were at home, watching Wisconsin get whipped by the Buckeyes on national television.

“We finished with two losses, so the negativity right now that I assume is out there, public‑wise — I know how it felt for me all week, and I'm sure it felt the same way for every one of our coaches and players,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Dec. 7. “We worked hard, and we are disappointed.”

Luckily for Iowa, it will have a chance to finish the season on a high note in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2, 2015, against Tennessee.

Although it’s not where the Hawkeyes wanted to be at the beginning of the season, a win at EverBank Field could help cure some of the negativity.

It would, for one, send the seniors off on a high note and could give the team momentum heading into the off-season. It could also create a buzz for the most lethargic fan base in recent memory.

To do that, Iowa will have to beat a team that will play its first bowl game since 2010. The Volunteers finished the regular season 6-6, fourth in the SEC West.

“SEC is king,” middle linebacker Quinton Alston said. “I was happy that we get a chance to face an SEC team. I’m happy to get to the game. I’m just anxious to get back onto the field.”

Alston and his fellow linebackers will have a shot to avenge poor performances against dual-threat quarterbacks. Despite only playing in five games this year, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs managed to finish second on his team in rushing with 393 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Mobile signal-callers have burned Iowa’s linebackers this season, along with the other members of the Hawkeye front seven. In fact, all five of the teams Iowa has fallen to this year have featured a quarterback who was dangerous both by ground and air.

An example: Joel Stave’s 12-yard rush on third and 8 in the fourth quarter of the Wisconsin game was a dagger to the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten championship hopes.

A win over Tennessee, the players say, might wash away those bad memories. Yes, the season was a disappointment, one Athletics Director Gary Barta called unacceptable, but the Hawkeyes can end things nicely with what they hope is their first of many wins in 2015.

“It’s going to be nice. Like [Alston] said, we had a bad taste in our mouth from the last two previous games and Coach Ferentz always talks about moving forward,” consensus All-American Brandon Scherff said. “All those games are behind us, and you can’t dwell on the past. You have to look forward.”

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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