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Orlando, Fl – As the calendar flips to 2024 for the new year, the third bowl game in Orlando, Florida and the second in Camping World Stadium lands on the penultimate day of the college football postseason. The Cheez-It Citrus Bowl featured #17 Iowa Hawkeyes as the Big 10 runners-up battling the Southeast Conference’s #21 Tennessee Volunteers.
The old saying goes that defense wins championships but Iowa’s vaunted defense had no answers for the Tennessee offense who won the battle of O-town returners, 35-0.
The day’s event served as an undercard for the CFP Semifinal games that will take place later in the day as a pairing of two teams vying to secure notoriety and credibility for recruiting in a world where competition for new players and future transfer prospects is a constant struggle.
Tennessee’s Nico Iamaleava got the start at quarterback for starter Joe Milton who watched on the sideline since he’s concentrating on the NFL Draft. After the Volunteer defense (without nine players who opted out of the game) held the Hawkeyes to a three-and-out to open the contest, Iamaleava secured a first down with his first pass. It was penalties that slowed Tennessee early.
After the 35-0 win in the #CheezIt @CitrusBowl at @CWStadium, #Tennessee @Vol_Football head coach Josh Heupel spoke on the play of QB Nico Imaleava and how bright it makes the future look in #RockyTop. #GBO. Powered by @3ptCnvrsn pic.twitter.com/h5D3e9WfGb
— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) January 1, 2024
Continued mistakes volunteered an opportunity for Iowa to score points as punter Jackson Ross kicked from the Volunteers 21 for only 26 yards keeping the Hawkeyes on that side of the field. However, the Volunteer’s defense intercepted Deacon Hill’s pass in the end zone just when they were closing to score. The big play by Andre Turrentine kept it scoreless through the first quarter.
On the very first play of the next quarter, Tennessee put the first points on the board with Iamaleava’s 19-yard touchdown run. The 76-yard drive showed that the Vols could run the ball on Iowa’s tough defensive front. Running back Dylan Sampson gained 133 yards on 20 carries filling in for NFL-bound 1,000-yard rusher, Jaylen Wright.
The Hawkeyes’ efforts to run the ball with Leshon Williams and company were stalled early on while Hill had issues connecting with receivers due to drops and pressure from the Tennessee front seven.
Iamaleava would extend the lead to 14-0 heading into halftime after a three-yard rushing touchdown. He became the first Tennessee quarterback to have multiple running touchdowns in a bowl game.
After the half, the teams exchanged punts for the first 12:30 minutes. Then with 2:30 left in the third quarter, the Volunteers’ James Pearce Jr. forced Hill to fumble on a sack that Dominic Bailey recovered on the Iowa two-yard line. This led to Iamaleava diving in for another rushing touchdown and a dominant 21-0 advantage heading into the final quarter of play.
Early in the fourth quarter, Pearce Jr. made matters even worse for Hill with a pick-six he returned 52 yards to make it 28-0. Hill was benched at that point for Marco Lainez who finished the game under center. Lainez would finish the game as his team’s leading rusher with 51 yards on six carries.
Despite the 35-0 drumming at the #CheezIt @CitrusBowl in @CWStadium, #Iowa #Hawkee head coach Kirk Ferentz talked about the bright spot that was freshman QB Marco Lainez coming in late in the game to show promise for the program moving forward. Powered by the @3ptCnvrsn pic.twitter.com/G7XxoebvtO
— Kyle Nash (@TheSoTG) January 1, 2024
Hill finished with seven completions on 18 throws for 56 yards, two interceptions and a fumble.
As a credit to the Volunteer’s defense, the Hawkeyes finished the game with only 173 yards of total offense with three turnovers that turned into 14 points.
Earning honors as the Player of the Game, Iamaleava completed 12 of his 19 passes with one touchdown and no turnovers while carrying the ball 15 times for 27 yards and three touchdowns before Gaston Moore took the snaps in the closing minutes.
While there were questions surrounding whether Tennessee should even be ranked in the CFP Top 25 in the national media, their complete demolition of the Hawleyes could serve as a statement they can use to prove they can be a force in the SEC in 2024.