Tennessee takes down Iowa in 2024 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl
By Alex Clough
Florida Citrus Sports
A vibrant Tennessee offense, headlined by 232 rushing yards, and a staunch defensive effort propelled the Volunteers past Iowa in an emphatic 35-0 shutout in the 2024 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium.
For the Knoxville natives who journeyed south to Orlando, Fla., head coach Josh Heupel and Tennessee (9-4, 4-4 SEC) delivered with a dominating display through all four quarters. True freshman Nico Iamaleava shinned as he tallied four total touchdowns including an impressive three on the ground, leaving no crumbles for Iowa (10-4, 7-2 Big Ten) to capitalize on, having complete control of all 60 minutes.
“The win speaks to the culture we have in our locker room and to the future these guys and our team has. The standard at Tennessee is to win national championships at Tennessee, nobody shies away from that and we have to continue to build of this and grow as a team,” said Heupel following the post-game celebrations.
A 30th bowl game triumph for the program, along with its fifth Citrus Bowl title, marks the 20th win since the start of 2022, securing the program its most successful two-season stretch since 2003-04.
The potent Tennessee defense set the tone early, sacking Iowa’s Deacon Hill to force a quick three and out. Elijah Herring’s first of the season extended the Volunteers’ 17-game streak dating back to 2022 with at least one sack collected as they entered the game 11th in the nation in total sacks.
A lone first down and a poor 26-yard punt gave Iowa the ball back with advantageous field position, leading to a swift sequence from the Hawkeyes into the red zone with hopes of grabbing the contest’s first points following a 14-yard rush from Terrell Washington Jr.
Iowa’s strong sophomore drive came down to a third and goal as Hill, looking to thread the needle to Nico Ragaini saw his pass intercepted by a diving Andre Turrentin in the endzone.
A punt from each side led to the first scoring drive of the game as Iamaleava showcased his vibrant ability, driving Tennessee 73 yards down the field before rushing for a 19-yard touchdown, the first of his young collegiate career.
The five-star California recruit capitalized on two consecutive explosive plays from Dylan Sampson who notched a 19-yard and 15-yard rush earlier in the drive, darting and cutting through the Iowa defense for the game’s first play of the second quarter. The momentum-shifting scoring drive was Tennessee’s 27th of the season traveling at least 70 yards.
While the Volunteer defense held it down, holding the Hawkeyes to its third three and out of the game, the offense returned to the field looking to extend the lead. For Iamaleava, the first time was so nice, he had to do it twice, as he capped off another emphatic 68-yard drive with a three-yard rushing touchdown.
The 11-play drive ate more than five minutes off the clock, including a strong string of rushes from freshman Cameron Seldon who tallied seven carries and 33 yards, setting up the eventual touchdown.
Of note, 126 of Tennessee’s 220 first-half yards came on the ground, dismantling the Iowa defense with nearly five yards per rush. In line with Heupel-coached teams, the Volunteers continue to edge out into first-half leads, having outscored opponents 243-129 in the first two quarters this season.
Sinicizing performances from the bands of both institutions, along with Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw gracing the stage, carried the 78th edition of the Citrus Bowl into the second half.
While Iamaleava and Squirrel White connected for 18 yards early in the third quarter, an eventual Iowa sack courtesy of Joe Evans led to a run of three consecutive three and outs including two from the Hawkeyes. The Volunteer defense made it difficult for Kirk Ferentz and his offense to garner any momentum, though the frustrating air and ground raid led to another big day for Iowa punter Tory Taylor.
The Australian native made 7 punts for a total of 360 yards (51.4 average) to secure history, surpassing the nearly century-old record (1938) for punt yards in a season, formerly held by Michigan State’s Johnny Pingel. Taylor finishes the 2023 campaign with an astonishing 4,479 yards, 341 more than the previous mark.
Late in the third quarter, another Iowa drive was drifting toward Taylor returning to the field to cap off a three-and-out. A third and 10 on its seven-yard-line made for perfect field position for the Volunteers following their second turnover of the game, this time following a forced fumble from James Pearce Jr. and a recovery from Dominic Bailey at the two-yard-line.
All paths led towards yet another rushing touchdown from Iamaleava to extend the Tennessee lead to 21-0, becoming the first Volunteer QB to rush for three touchdowns in a game since current Minnesota Viking and former Tennessee standout Josh Dobbs tallied three of his own on Dec. 30, 2016, in the Music City Bowl.
While the Volunteer defense could be credited with an assisted touchdown leading to the aforementioned 2-yard score from Iamaleava, just seconds into the fourth quarter, they secured one of their own from a familiar face. A Hill pass intended for Kaleb Brown was perfectly read by Pearce Jr. who immediately set his sights towards the endzone, taking the interception 52 yards to extend the Tennessee lead 28-0. His first-career interception marked the fourth pic-six of the season for one of the nation’s top defenses.
“James has a good football future in front of him, he’s a great player and for him, he has continue to grow as we continue to put him into positions to win,” said Heupel on the career-day, later adding, “that pic-six wasn’t bad was it?”
For Hill, that proved to be his final action of the game as freshman Marco Lainez entered the game for his collegiate minutes. While he seemed to spark some life into Iowa with a string of four rushes of at least 10 yards, the Volunteer defense stood tall to force a turnover on downs.
Looking to add some diversity to his portfolio, Iamaleava secured his fourth touchdown of the day, though this time through the air on an 18-yard touchdown to McCallan Castles. His first true introduction to a national audience, the No. 1 rated player in the class of 2023 according to On3.com threw for 151 yards on 12 completions and rushed for 27 yards and three touchdowns, showing both Volunteer fans and opponents the other-worldly talent that Tennessee wields.
Following the game, Iamaleava was named the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl MVP for his efforts leading the Volunteer offense.
On the flip side of the Volunteers showing, the defense secured eight tackles for loss, constantly stalling any attempt for Iowa to advance the ball. Having surpassed 100 on the season (101), Tennessee has tallied at least four TFL in 24 consecutive games dating back to 2022.
Its second shutout of the season marks the first in the Citrus Bowl since East Carolina’s 31-0 victory over Main in 1965.