- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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Tennessee, in its first postseason appearance since 2010, scored on four straight possessions to open the TaxSlayer Bowl en route to a 45-28 thumping of Iowa in Jacksonville, Florida.
The energized Volunteers, behind sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs and freshman running back Jalen Hurd, piled up 461 yards against the Hawkeyes, who dropped to 7-6 and lost a third consecutive bowl game.
The Vols also finished 7-6, but with a much different feel after winning three of four games, sparked by Dobbs, to close the regular season.
The Tennessee victory evened the Big Ten-SEC bowl duel at two wins apiece after New Year’s Day victories by Missouri over Minnesota, Wisconsin over Auburn and Ohio State over Alabama.
With five freshmen and three seniors in its starting lineup, Tennessee can eye a move up the SEC ladder. After the resounding win Friday, it figures to start next season among the favorites in the East.
Game ball goes to: Dobbs, who picked up where he left off in November. He completed his first eight passes as the Vols led 28-0 less three minutes into the second quarter. He finished with 129 yards on 16-of-21 passing with 76 rushing yards, bringing his total-offense figure over five starts to end the season to 1,408 yards. He was responsible for 15 touchdowns in that stretch, including three against Iowa.
How the game was won: The decisive nature of Tennessee’s plan from the start presented a stark contrast to the Hawkeyes, who alternated quarterbacks by series through the first half. Starter Jake Rudock and backup C.J. Beathard, around whom concerns of a transfer exist, both failed to find rhythm in the offense. Rudock, in fact, completed just one pass in the first half, yielding to Beathard in the third quarter. And Iowa’s bread-and-butter running game appeared no more organized. Meanwhile, the Vols simply leaned on Dobbs and Hurd, who rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
Stat of the game: In building its quick, four-touchdown lead, Tennessee averaged 11.2 yards on 23 plays through the first 17:58 of clock time. Of those 23 plays, nine gained more than 10 yards. In that same span, Iowa averaged 4.3 yards per play with three gains of more than 10 yards.
Best play: Leading 14-0 after its defense forced a three-and-out with Rudock at the helm for Iowa late in the first quarter, Tennessee dialed up the trickery. Running back Marlin Lane took a lateral from Dobbs, ran to his right and pulled up, hitting wide-open Vic Wharton for a 49-yard strike.