Ever since head coach Butch Jones took the Tennessee job, he has started to rebuild the program brick by brick from years of malaise. He's even taken the strategy quite literally by breaking out orange and white bricks on National Signing Day to represent the new waves of Volunteer football players.
On Friday afternoon in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Jones added one of his biggest figurative bricks in the process by throttling Iowa, 45-28, in a game that was far from close. In doing so, he became the first Vols coach since Phillip Fulmer to win a bowl game and very likely made the team a trendy darkhorse in the SEC East in 2015.
Tennessee's young guns, as they have all season, paved the way to the big win against an overmatched Hawkeyes team that simply couldn't deal with the Vols' speed and power. Sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs completed just 16 passes for 129 yards with an interception and touchdown, but he was an efficient distributor to his skill-position players and also used his legs to rush for 76 yards and two more scores.
It was freshman tailback Jalen Hurd who really broke out early in the contest, however. Hurd showed why he was yet another name to add to the list of young, prodigious backs around the country, finishing with 122 yards on just 16 carries with two touchdowns while showing an impressive blend of power and speed.
Iowa was able to make the score respectable in the fourth quarter, with signal-caller C.J. Beathard leading three touchdown drives after rotating with fellow quarterback Jake Rudock. Mark Weisman rushed for 10 yards on seven carries, but scored two touchdowns. Jordan Canzeri led the Hawkeyes on the ground with 120 yards on 12 carries.
If there was one positive for Iowa, it was probably the play of stud left tackle Brandon Scherff. A senior, Scherff is considered one of the premier players -- if not the premier player -- at his position in the 2015 NFL Draft, and he showed why. He is a violent run blocker who sets the edge and moves opposing ends out of the way with ease. Most impressive, Scherff handled Tennessee's freshman All-American Derek Barnett in pass protection and looked like the team's best player by a mile most of the game.
That wasn't enough for Iowa, however, to come away with a victory. The TaxSlayer Bowl belonged to the Volunteers' young guns in an SEC-reputation-restoring victory.