While their elite SEC brothers took a beating in their bowl games, Tennessee sounded a warning for the future.
The Vols are for real. Now and only going to get better in 2015.
They were the last team to carry the battered SEC banner off the field, with second year coach Butch Jones getting drenched with a Gatorade shower. Orange of course.
While national SEC powers Alabama, Auburn, LSU and earlier top 10 teams Mississippi State and Ole Miss were getting hammered in their bowl games, the Vols, Georgia and South Carolina were left to pick up the pieces.
The Vols showed they are the real deal. While the once powerful SEC West teams left their bowl games teetering, the SEC’s stepchildren, i.e. the SEC East, signaled they are teams on the rise.
The Vols were one of the youngest teams in the country. Their schedule was filled with top 25 opponents. But they believed in Butch when he signed them as freshmen. Despite suffering losses to the SEC’s upper crust teams, they never quit believing.
They jumped on Iowa like a ton of bricks, no pun intended. They got out of the gates faster than NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit second gear when he drove in the stadium.
“We wanted to start fast,’’ Jones said. “We thought that was critical in this game. I believe we only had three third downs in the entire first half. When we’re moving on offense, we’re generating first downs on first down and second down. I thought Josh managed the game.’’
It was over early and often. The Vols were like caged animals escaping from captivity. The Vols scored touchdowns on six of their first eight possessions.
The huge Tennessee fan base that traveled to Jacksonville roared. Why not? These have been long, hard days, weeks, months and years since Tennessee fans have been able to put some swagger in their steps.
It marked their first bowl victory since 2008 in the Outback Bowl. It was their first winning season (7-6) since 2009. Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd was only 13 years old when they won their last bowl game.
Sophomore quarterback and Taxslayer Bowl Most Valuable Player Joshua Dobbs was stoked. He hit on his first seven passes. He finished 16 of 21 for 129 yards and a touchdown pass. Dobbs added 76 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground. He put up 205 yards of total offense and increased his record as the Vols starting quarterback to 4-1.
Hurd led the Vols ground game with 122 yards and two touchdown runs.
It was 28-0 before Iowa realized the game had started. It climbed to 35-7 at halftime and 42-7 at the end of three quarters. Their offense piled up 45-points before going on cruise control.
The defense wasn’t too shabby. Vols sophomore linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin led the way on defense by posting a career-high 13 tackles. Iowa was held to 421 yards, most of those coming after the outcome was not in doubt.
“We knew our resiliency and our perseverance would be challenged this year,’’ Jones said. “It’s a tribute to everyone in our football family of staying together, focusing on the process and they were rewarded (Friday) night.’’
Iowa finished on a losing note. The Hawkeyes dropped five of their last seven games, while the Vols remained on a roll.
As Jones prepares to land another outstanding recruiting class, he knows how important it is to keep building up the foundation. They return 19 starters next season.
“This is the start of a foundation for something big going on in Tennessee,’’ said Dobbs. “(This is) momentum we can carry into the off-season.’’
Jones knows fame is fleeting if you don’t keep focused on the long-term prize. The journey continues.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at email@example.com.