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Iowa Shut Out in Brian Ferentz Finale, Citrus Bowl

Iowa Citrus Bowl

A different game, but it was the same performance for Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. The Hawkeyes managed to put together 173 total yards in their zero-point effort against Tennessee on New Year’s Day. Tennessee’s true freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava had a more than respectable first start en route to the Volunteers’ 35-0 victory. His three rushing touchdowns on the day nearly doubled what Iowa allowed on the ground in its 12-game regular season. The good news, Iowa’s offensive coordinator is officially fired, and Marco Lainez appears to be the mobile quarterback Iowa hasn’t had in years.

Nico Iamaleava

The true freshman quarterback played like a seasoned starter against one of the nation’s best defenses. Iamaleava’s confidence in the pocket and decision-making ability against Phil Parker’s group was impressive. It led to his first rushing touchdown of the season after he led a 73-yard drive. Iamaleava knifed through the Hawkeye defense for a 19-yard touchdown rush on the first play of the second quarter. 

He made it two rushing scores on the ensuing Volunteer possession after taking the offense 68 yards. He also punched in a two-yard score following an Iowa fumble inside their own two-yard line. Iamaleava capped his performance with a passing touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The future of Tennessee football is in great hands with one of the better young quarterbacks in the nation. Iamaleava’s performance was rewarded by resting the final four-plus minutes of the contest.

Tory Taylor’s Punting Record

After Iowa’s first possession of the day went three-and-out, Tory Taylor took the field for what would become a record-setting punt. The Australian punter kicked a 62-yard punt to set the record for most punting yards in a single season. His punt gave him the record 4,181 punt yards on the season, breaking the previous record of 4,138 set in 1938. Taylor finished the game with seven punts, 360 punt yards, and a season total of 4,479 yards. 

Field Position Battle

The stagnant Iowa offense proved to be zero threat to the Tennessee defense in the Citrus Bowl, and Josh Heupel knew that. The Volunteers punted seven times on the day and even did so on short yardage fourth down situations early in the game. Jackson Ross pinned Iowa inside its own 20-yard line five times. He was a major contributor to Iowa starting their possessions at their own 23-yard line on average.

For the Hawkeyes, Taylor punted as many times as Deacon Hill had completions (seven each). Tennessee’s ability to play Iowa’s game today played right into their hands. Following Ross’ seventh punt of the day, Iowa turned it over inside the two-yard line to set up the Volunteers’ third rushing touchdown on the day. Iowa allowed four rushing touchdowns all season. Heupel’s offense finished the day with three.

Brian Ferentz is Done… Finally

The reluctance to change anything on offense doesn’t just result in zero points scored. It gives an impression of not even trying. The Hawkeye offense went three-and-out five times and tallied 111 yards of offense with Hill in at quarterback. Ferentz met with the media ahead of the Citrus Bowl and was quoted saying that there were no packages for backup quarterback, Lainez, in this game. He expected Hill to go the distance in this bowl game, and he nearly did just that. Hill finished with 56 yards, two interceptions, and a fumble lost inside Iowa’s own five yard line. The offensive coordinator also cited Hill as playing “really good football” for Iowa this season as his reason to give him the start in the Citrus Bowl. Hill’s season finished with five touchdowns, 88.6 yards per game, eight interceptions, 11 fumbles, and six fumbles lost. 

To the relief and loud applause of Iowa fans in attendance, Iowa backup Lainez was given his first chance of the season in the fourth quarter down 28-0. In just five plays, he became Iowa’s leading rusher on the day with 38 yards. The true freshman ended up finishing the day as the team’s leading rusher with 51 total yards on six attempts. He had four rushes of more than 10 yards in the fourth quarter alone, yet was never given a chance to play all season. The mobile tendencies of Lainez were impressive late in this game and gave the Hawkeyes a glimpse of what their future could be at quarterback.

Zero Downfield Threat

Tennessee played this Citrus Bowl without three of its starting defensive backs. The Hawkeye offense refused to test them with any deep throws. Iowa threw the ball for 10 or more air yards exactly four times for one completion on 25 passing attempts. The refusal to test a depleted defense and stick to their typical, unproductive offense further strengthens the image of ineptitude and lack of effort from the nation’s worst offense.

Moving On Into 2024

For Hawkeye fans, change is finally coming. The offensive philosophy might not change much, but at least there will be a different coach holding the play sheet. Ferentz is officially out as the offensive coordinator following the loss to Tennessee. Kirk Ferentz said a new offensive coordinator will be named sometime in January. With the quick glimpse we got of Lainez in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, Iowa appears to have a mobile quarterback in their arsenal. With Cade McNamara, Hill, and Lainez all expected to be back next year, the next offensive coordinator will have three different skill sets to consider in 2024.

 

Iowa Citrus Bowl
Photo courtesy:  Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

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