It's infamously dangerous to read too much into bowl games, one-off postseason exhibition contests where travel arrangements, motivation and any number of intangibles can influence the outcome. But even taking all those caveats into account, Tennessee's walloping of Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl seems to be as clear a sign as any that the Volunteers will be a factor in the SEC East race next year, and likely for a few years after that.
The 45-28 score, and the underlying stats that it produced, were deceptively narrowed by a late-game Iowa run long after the game was essentially over. The score was 35-7 at the half and 42-7 at the end of the third quarter. At halftime, Tennessee had 321 yards to 153 for Iowa and had run just too third-down plays. The Vols punted once in the first half.
And it was a young core of players that made it possible. Joshua Dobbs was 16-of-21 passing for 129 yards, a touchdown and an interception, adding 76 yards and two touchdowns on 13 rushes. Jalen Hurd ran the ball 16 times for 122 yards and his own pair of scores. As for the defense: Three of Iowa's first 12 drives covered more than 40 yards. On both sides of the ball, there might be more where that came from.
This is Tennessee's two-deep for today. Just four seniors. pic.twitter.com/VqIXq3VmCh
— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) January 2, 2015
There's no doubt that Tennessee went through some growing pains this year, nowhere more so than during a stretch of the season where the Vols went almost two months between victories against FBS competition. And no one is going to mistake Iowa in a January 2 bowl game for Alabama in Tuscaloosa in October. But after winning three of its last four games -- all against SEC opponents -- Tennessee was already getting some buzz as a possible contender in what is expected to be another wide-open SEC East race. On Friday, the Vols gave everyone watching plenty of reasons to believe that they can deliver.