Hawkeyes: Changes unlikely for Iowa against Tennessee on New Year.

Unlikely: Changers Of Hawkeyes Against Tennessee On New…..

Iowa Football: Kirk Ferentz reacts to Music City Bowl vs. Kentucky

hen the Hawkeyes take the field on New Year’s Day in Orlando, don’t expect major changes.

Different QB? Doubtful. A new-look offense? Unlikely.

Iowa, seeking its 11th win of the season, will look similar to the team that consistently found a way to win unconventionally this season.

The Hawkeyes’ formula of relying heavily on their defense and special teams has resulted in a 10-3 record, a No. 17 national ranking and a spot in the Citrus Bowl against 21st-ranked Tennessee, with a team head coach Kirk Ferentz is quite fond of.

“Somebody pointed out to me, it was 25 years ago when I started in this position, and I feel very fortunate about that,” Ferentz said. “During that time we’ve had a lot of really good teams, and I’ve had the privilege to work with a lot of outstanding players.

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“But this group that we’ve worked with this year is about as good as we’ve had. Certainly amongst the most outstanding group that we’ve had. A lot of tremendous players. Gotten great leadership, made great improvements, stuck together.”

Big Ten Championship Football
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz walks on the sideline during the Big Ten championship game against Michigan on Saturday in Indianapolis.

Sticking together references a team that has not fractured despite an offense that has scuffled mightily.

The Hawkeyes’ struggles were on full display for the college football world to see in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night. They had just seven first downs and 153 yards. Only Navy (157) has fewer first downs than the Hawkeyes (170) this season.

Quarterback Deacon Hill has struggled since taking over for the injured Cade McNamara. Ferentz has steadfastly stood by the Californian as the starter because of his play in practice but acknowledged, “We don’t have guys stacked up that were five-star recruits.”

Iowa’s average output of 16.6 points per game is unlikely to be enough against Tennessee on Jan. 1.

Led by another Michigan transfer QB — Joe Milton — the Vols average 31.5 points per game and more than 435 yards of offense per contest.

Tennessee is good on defense, too. The Vols’ 36 sacks are the 10th most in the country.

Iowa’s sturdy defense limited Michigan to 213 yards in the Big Ten title game and ranks fourth in the nation in points allowed per game at 13.23, led by tackling ace Jay Higgins.

The Hawkeyes will need a similarly stellar effort on New Year’s Day in Orlando against one of the SEC’s top teams. Iowa has more than held its own against teams from the ballyhooed conference. The Hawkeyes are 7-6 all-time against SEC schools in bowl games, including last season’s 21-0 blanking of Kentucky.

“The work Josh has done at Tennessee, and Central Florida before that, is just outstanding,” Ferentz said of head coach Josh Heupel, who is 26-12 in three years at Rocky Top. “Really good program. It will be a great challenge for us.”

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