Four Downs: Vols vanquish Iowa early, roll to TaxSlayer Bowl win

Against Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Iowa this season, Tennessee freshman Jalen Hurd (126 yards/2 TDs in the TaxSlayer Bowl) held stellar averages of 131 total yards and 0.8 TDs.

Phil Sears

The sophomore Dobbs, with only a handful of college starts under his belt, was clean, efficient and downright dirty against the Hawkeyes, racking up 205 total yards (129 rushing) and three touchdowns, in essentially three quarters of work.

Of equal relevance, the kid coolly connected on 16 of 21 passes.

The freshman Hurd amassed 126 total yards and two TDs, with both scores coming in the opening 13 minutes. Against the likes of Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and now Iowa this season, the blue-chip recruit averaged 131 total yards and 0.83 TDs.

Which brings us to this: Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and his staff have reportedly been killing it on the recruiting trail, with a special emphasis of building up the trenches (offensive/defensive line).

But for the Vols to take a transcendent step forward next season … they’ll need established playmakers — like Dobbs, Hurd and sophomore wideout Marquez North — to revive the Tennessee aura on fall Saturdays.

Let’s run down the Hawkeyes’ many foibles in bullet-list form:

**Iowa surrendered touchdowns on Tennessee’s first four drives — including a 49-yard touchdown pass from tailback Marlin Lane, who fielded a lateral from Dobbs and then hit Vic Wharton for the easiest score of his college career.

The sad thing is, there wasn’t much "trickery" to the trick play … and yet, the Hawkeyes looked absurdly out of position when defending the ball.

**During that first quarter, Iowa’s offense tallied just three first downs.

**The Hawkeyes fostered a less-than-brilliant plan of rotating their quarterbacks during the first half, regardless of the score or circumstances (more on this later).

**Tennessee (7-6) scored 35 in the opening 30 minutes — which was more than it collected in eight games during the regular season.

**The Vols defenders had zero respect for the Hawkeyes passing game, continually crowding the line of scrimmage, jumping routes and outright daring the opposing QBs to go beyond 20 yards downfield.

**Trailing by 28 in the second quarter, Iowa’s Jonathan Parker pulled off a head-scractching gaffe: He fielded a kick at his own 1 along the right sideline — a ball that could have easily been a touchback — and then nearly fell out of bounds.

When perusing the box score, Iowa and Tennessee had negligible differences with first downs, total yards, yards passing, yards rushing, turnovers and time of possession.

In today’s landscape of big-boy football, there’s simply no excuse for alternating passers on each possession — regardless of merit.

Seriously, Iowa had — what? — 10, 11 or maybe 12 practices in December to get ready for the TaxSlayer Bowl and commit to a balanced game plan that could poke holes in the Tennessee defense.

And yet, the intermittent shuffling of Jake Rudock (54 total yards) and C.J. Beathard (227 total yards, two TDs) was a shameful half-measure by the coaching staff, as if it were a crime to bench one of their middling QBs leading up to Friday.

In a single afternoon in Jacksonville, Fla., Iowa marginalized a red-letter New Year’s Day for the conference, with Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State upending three programs ranked in the top five at some point during the regular season — Auburn, Baylor and No. 1 Alabama, respectively.

Back to the Hawkeyes: How does this program continually produce middle-of-the-pack talents at quarterback, given their sterling track record of developing NFL-quality prospects at offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, safety and running back?

I would think that blue-chip QBs from the Midwest would be dying to come to Iowa City, knowing their good bets to leave school in relatively good health — thanks to the many premium O-linemen.

At this point, if I were a Hawkeyes fan, I’d settle for the hologram likeness of Chuck Hartlieb — the school’s No. 4 all-time passer (6,296 yards passing, 36 TDs from 1986-88) — taking the field.

And then, let’s hope Hartlieb (who succeeded Chuck Long in the 1980s) wouldn’t have to split time with the hologram likeness of Drew Tate.