DI Pregame Roundtable
Iowa is in a January bowl game for the second time in as many years, but this year’s postseason game — the TaxSlayer Bowl — sounds (and really, is) a lot less lucrative than the Outback Bowl. The Hawkeyes will play Tennessee on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville.
As such, the Pregame staff is back for our final Roundtable of the season, in which we talk Iowa-Tennessee, what to expect from the game, argue about the Hawkeyes’ best win, and give our predictions for the game.
Jacob Sheyko, football reporter: So I guess a good spot to start would be to talk about the bowl game — you know the main reason we’re doing this thing. Let’s start with the Hawkeyes, who have more than a month to prepare for this game. What changes, if any, should we expect from Iowa as its faces Tennessee?
Danny Payne, football reporter: I don’t know if we’re going to see any big changes, personnel-wise or schematically, but one of the two biggest things Iowa needs to change is finishing games.
Take a look at the Hawkeyes’ last two losses of the year: Iowa had chances to win both of those games but essentially found ways to lose. Against Wisconsin, all the defense had to do was get a stop on third down and force the Badgers to punt. With the way the offense was rolling, Iowa would have had a legitimate shot to win that game.
Against Nebraska, Iowa didn’t put the nail in the coffin and let the Huskers back into the game, and they made the Hawks pay. So against Tennessee, don’t let the Volunteers hang around, get out to an early lead, and slam the door shut.
Cody Goodwin, Pregame Editor: Agreed, and another thing to watch will be how Iowa plays against Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee’s dual-threat quarterback. I get that this is the last game of the season, so there’s really no momentum going one way or the other — although Kirk Ferentz will certainly argue differently, I’m sure — but it will ultimately serve as a test for the Hawkeyes: Have they learned how to stop a dual-threat quarterback or not?
Think of the dual threats they’ve faced this season: Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner, Maryland’s C.J. Brown, Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr., and, to varying degrees, Iowa State’s Sam Richardson and Wisconsin’s Tanner McEvoy. Each one had success, be it on the ground or through the air — and sometimes, both. Iowa’s defense has never been able to fully contain a dual-threat quarterback, so it’ll be interesting to see what the unit does against Dobbs.
(Also, for what it’s worth: each of those teams beat Iowa. So, well, you know.)
Sheyko: I agree that we shouldn’t expect anything all too out of the ordinary from the Hawkeyes. However, with a month to prepare, and be prepared for, it’s almost a necessity that teams throw in an extra wrinkle.
I think something to keep an eye on would be involving Jonathan Parker. He’s kind of an all-or-nothing player but does have some big-play potential. After all but disappearing these past two games — 4 yards combined — I’d expect him to be involved in some form or another.
With that being said, what can we expect from Tennessee?
Payne: As Cody started to touch on, we can expect a dual-threat quarterback, which has killed Iowa this season. Dobbs has only played five games, and he’s rushed for 393 yards and 6 touchdowns. That has to have defensive coordinator Phil Parker devoting the majority of this month to finding ways to keep Dobbs in the pocket.
Whether that means putting a spy on Dobbs — although that’s questionable because Iowa’s linebackers aren’t the quickest — or keeping Drew Ott and Nate Meier on contain all day, Iowa can’t let Dobbs run all over the field and still expect to win.
So, yeah, expect the Vols to use a whole lot of Dobbs in more than one way.
Sheyko: It’s funny, besides having a mobile quarterback, Iowa and Tennessee share a lot in common. Iowa averages 242 passing yards per game, Tennessee averages 228; Iowa averages 28.3 points per game, Tennessee averages 27.6; Iowa allows 24 points per game, Tennessee averages 23.9.
There are other similarities as well. Much like Iowa, the Volunteers don’t have one dominant ballcarrier. Statistically, Tennessee’s best running back is Jalen Hurd, who has rushed for 777 yards.
The Volunteers also spread the ball around in the passing game. Their leading pass-catcher leads the team with just 589 passing yards.
And finally, each team comes into the game boasting not exactly the most stellar wins. Tennessee’s best win is arguably South Carolina, a 6-6 team.
Iowa’s best win is probably either Illinois or Pittsburgh.
Goodwin: Funny you mention that, because there’s a case to be made that Iowa’s best win was over Northern Iowa. The Panthers, while playing in the FCS, went 8-4 and reached the second round of the FCS playoffs. Iowa’s 31-23 win over Northern Iowa was the Hawkeyes’ only win over a team with a winning record this season. Take that how you will, of course.
But maybe that comparison will make this game a good one. Each team enters having beaten the bad teams but not the good or great ones. We’ll have two middle-of-the-pack teams that meet up for a January Bowl game that’s not nearly as lucrative as that title might make it sound.
That’s the perfect transition into our predictions. What’re we feeling, you guys?
Sheyko: Despite mobile quarterbacks giving the Hawkeyes trouble, I think the month break gives them time to prepare for Dobbs. I’m taking Iowa, 28-24.
Payne: I think Dobbs runs all over Iowa. I’m taking Tennessee, 27-24.
Goodwin: I think Iowa will win the Midlands handily. Maybe not in record-setting fashion as it did last year, but it shouldn’t be a problem.
Oh, right. Football. Not wrestling. Oops. Give me Tennessee, say, 31-27.
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