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Into the Postseason: Ten Points on Tennessee Football

The not-Gator Bowl was fun, wasn't it?

Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

1. I missed one play of the Outback Bowl; it wasn't intentional, but I figured worst-case scenario I'd miss a first down play, nothing huge. Of course, it was the first down play 1:34 into the highlight video:

2. If Iowa hadn't yet mentally checked out during the Tennessee onslaught to start the game, that was probably the tipping point. 21-0 after 15 minutes of game time (total offense at the time: Tennessee-196 yards, Iowa-84 yards) is a beatdown. If you want to look at the first 20 minutes of the game, it was 28-0, with a yardage edge of 252-120. You could argue Iowa was unlucky to at least not get a field goal, but, well, that'd make it 28-3 and we can debate if that would be a theoretical sad field goal.

3. Regardless, the game was effectively over at one of three spots: 21-0 (after a quarter), 28-0 (after 20 minutes), or 42-7 (after Tennessee's second possession of the third quarter). You can pick the one that suits your narrative best, but who was really expecting a laugher of a game? There was some concern over Iowa's ability to keep this game close-I was on the record with a 20-17 Tennessee win-but the game was never within two possessions after the 2-minute mark of the first quarter.

4. A couple of notes about Iowa: I didn't think CJ Beathard had a horrific game. Tennessee did a good job forcing pressure (and we're about to enter some salad days of QB pressure if stars are to be believed) and Beathard only had 6.3 YPA, but he had a few scrambles. The Tennessee DL didn't record any sacks and only had 3 TFL in this game, but see the previous paragraph; tough to really play super aggressive when you're sitting on a four-score lead. I thought Jordan Canzari was good and would've been dangerous if he got more than 12 carries, but I'm sure you can ask any Iowa fan what they think of Greg Davis and his personnel decisions.

5. Okay, one more: Iowa's about to enter a dark, dark place with a head coach who's struggling to get recruits, an offensive staff that's been a punchline for years, and their biggest upside players not touching the ball. Here's hoping for their sake that Beathard gets a chance to succeed and Canzari does well. There's some talent on the team, even at the skill positions, but based on a sample size of one game the low-risk combo of Jake Rudock and Mark Weisman did approximately nothing. Will Kirk Ferentz and crew learn? Will they have to, because I don't know how Iowa can afford to get rid of them in a very literal sense?

6. Speaking of talent: I know on some level that 5-star recruits are more talented than 3-star recruits. I get that, but I didn't really get that until the Jalen Hurd 29-yard pinball TD where he bounced off at least half of the Hawkeye defense. Five star guys can do that? Sure! Sign me up! How do we get more of those?

7. Somewhat related, this is the first time in a long time I've thought Tennessee was just flat-out faster than an opponent. [B1G SPEED jokes go here] I mean, even Pig Howard reverses worked. What more do you need?

8. Josh Dobbs had a classic eye-of-the-beholder test through the air: on one hand, 16/21, 1 TD isn't bad, nor is chipping in 76 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. On the other: 6.1 YPA, 5.8 YPC, 1 INT, so why was Tennessee passing at all? Oh, right, the back-shoulder-fade TD to Von Pearson. I'll allow it, although I feel plays like that are why offensive coordinators keep calling fade routes.

9. That being said, we're going to have eight months to pick apart any of the offensive and defensive play calls you'd care to, and they led this game 42-7. I'm definitely going to examine this stuff on my own, but later. I don't need to it right now. (Also, while we're here: kicking the field goal to make it 45-14 did leave it a four-possession game, but Ferentz was never going to go crazy on two-point conversions to catch up. I don't like the idea, but it would only matter in such a small world of potential outcomes, and let's not even get into Ferentz trying onside kicks after scores but not going for two. I still don't get that.)

10. In the meantime, who's ready to press fast-forward to next August? Tennessee's recruiting class is sitting pretty (thank you, Kyle Phillips!), they're not losing many meaningful pieces, and best as I can figure, the only major questions are A) who steps into the middle linebacker role, B) can the offensive line take the next step, and C) does this team know how to make The Leap. That's it, right? Everything else is minor, and this squad is still so, so young.

11. I keep on coming back to if I would've been happy with this year if I knew the end result back in August. I think my answer is yes: the defense was better than expected, Joshua Dobbs ended the season as the starter (I was pro-Justin Worley at the beginning of the year, but that was because I thought he was the best shot at a bowl game; since we made one with Dobbs and Dobbs is still around, by definition I'd be okay with that), they made a bowl, and they beat the pants off their opponent in said bowl. Your mileage may vary, but for a team who had to figure out how to win on the fly against opponents with a pulse, the South Carolina comeback and the first half of the not-Gator Bowl were plenty of ammunition that this year at worst met my expectations.

12. And yes, we're going to have ages to figure out what the expectations for next year should be. But: we have eight friggin' months for that. The offseason is long and full of terrors like watching Fredi Gonzales-managed teams (hi Will!) and figuring out what hockey actually is and how on earth a team based in Toronto could be so bad. Meanwhile, SEC basketball fever is about to take hold, we're a little over a month from National Signing Day, and spring practice will be on us shortly. Point being: we've got time. Enjoy this.