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RECAP: Tennessee shuts out Iowa, 35-0, with freshman Nico Iamaleava accounting for all four Volunteer touchdowns

With no authority at all, I officially name today “Nico Iamaleava Day.”

Cheez-It Citrus Bowl - Iowa v Tennessee Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Nico Iamaleava, at least for today, is indeed the Prince that was Promised.

Iamaleava accounted for all four of UT’s TDs, rushing for three and throwing for a fourth.

The game sorta played out differently than most expected, with Iowa’s offense having no answer for Tennessee’s defense. The Vols accumulated 383 yards — 256 of which came on the ground — and had 25 first downs on 74 total plays. UT turned the Hawkeyes over three times — including a James Pearce pick-six — sacked the Iowa QBs five times, had eight TFLs and five pass breakups on the way to a 35-0 shutout of the nation’s No. 4-rated defense. The Vols scored more points on Iowa than any other team this season.

Tennessee’s defense started strong by giving up four total yards and a third-down sack from Elijah Herring on the first drive of the game.

After a 62-yard punt, the Volunteer offense started as one would expect — with a nine-yard pass to Jacob Warren to the near sideline to start to get its freshman QB comfortable. On the next play, Nico scrambled for a significant gain, but the play was negated by a holding call on Ollie Lane. The Vols compounded the issue with a false start on Cooper Mays, and Iowa sacked Nico on third-and-10. Jackson Ross didn’t match his Iowa counterpart as he shanked a 26-yarder to give the Hawkeyes the ball at the Vols’ 47-yard line.

Iowa marched down the field with chunk plays of 11, 6, 6, and 14 yards, the final of which came on a third-and-four. On another third-and-four, from UT’s four-yard line, Andre Turrentine stepped in front of a pass in the end zone for an interception. Turrentine got the start today in place of Wesley Walker, who entered the transfer portal on December 23rd.

The Vols failed to capitalize on the turnover. The offense went for 20 combined yards on consecutive plays — a 12-yard run from Dylan Sampson and an 18-yard pass from Iamaleava to Ramel Keyton. UT gained three yards on the next three plays, including a perfectly-called screen pass where an Iowa defender hit Nico’s arm as he tried to get the ball to Sampson who had plenty of green grass in front of him.

The defense held the Hawkeye offense to just seven yards on three plays before Tory Taylor blasted another punt 55 yards. On the return, Dee Williams nearly busted one for a huge gain, but the review showed his knee was down at UT’s 27.

With two-ish minutes left in the first quarter, Sampson gained 15 yards and 19 yards on back-to-back plays. Nico hit Keyton for a six-yard gain and then scrambled around the near side of the field. He took a sack on the next play to end the first quarter, but scored a 19-yard touchdown on a designed QB run to the right side of the line.

Blockers don’t get much credit, but that score doesn’t happen without the lead block from Sampson there. Great play call, too. I didn’t expect the staff to call many plays with Nico running the ball inside, but that’s one of the many reasons I’m not a coach.

After the TD, Iowa got called for a delay of game penalty, and then Tyre West and Elijah Simmons combined for a sack of minus nine yards. The Hawkeyes missed on its next two passes, and another Taylor punt gave the Vols at their own 32-yard line.

The offense started the drive with two chunk plays — a 12-yard pass to Kaleb Webb and a 13-yard run from Cam Seldon. A Nico scramble, a Seldon eight-yard gain and a no-gain rush from Seldon led to a fourth-down at Iowa’s 34-yard line.

Seldon picked up the first down with a three-yard run, and then Iowa got tagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty where it looked like one of its players threw a punch.

With the ball at Iowa’s 16, Tennessee leaned on Seldon for five more yards before a Nico scramble put the offense at the 11. On third-and-one, Seldon picked up three yards and set up Nico’s second rushing TD of the game on another designed QB run:

The Hawkeye offense picked up 1y yards on its next drive — 15 on a second-down rush, and one more on a second-down scramble from Hill. Otherwise, Hill went 0-2 on the drive, with the third-and-nine attempt broken up by Turrentine.

The Vols’ offense gained 17 yards on four plays before Nico got sacked by Iowa’s Jay Higgins for a seven-yard loss. Jackson Ross’ punt traveled 48 yards and gave Iowa the ball at its own 21 yard-line with three-ish minutes left until halftime.

Both teams got the ball one more time before halftime, but the only notable play was a brilliant throw-and-catch from Nico to Keyton. Iamaleava was rolling to his right and hit Keyton on the play-side sideline, where Keyton managed to catch the ball and keep one foot in bounds. My words just don’t do it justice.

Tennessee the game 14-0 going into the break.

Tennessee got the ball to start the half and gained 30 yards on its first four plays. Then, Heupel finally took his shot downfield. Nico put the ball in the perfect spot — about three or four yards into the endzone, but Keyton either lost the ball in the sun or stopped running on the route. Sampson rushed for two yards before Nico took another sack on third-and-eight.

Once again, Iowa’s offense showed the pulse of a dying animal. The Hawkeyes ran three plays — two runs for a combined four yards and an incomplete pass. Tory Taylor blasted another punt, this one for 53 yards, to put the Vols at their own 37-yard line. To this point, Taylor punted six times for 313 yards for a 52.2 average.

The Vols kept the ball on the ground on their subsequent possession with three runs from Seldon for nine yards. With the ball at the Vols’ 46, Heupel elected to punt, and Ross pinned the Hawkeyes at their own 10 yard-line. Unfortunately, Keyton ran straight into the returner, who’d called for a fair catch and got tagged for a 15-yard penalty.

To start its next drive, Hill took a 10-yard sack from Tyre West, his second sack of the game. The Hawkeyes completed a 14-yard pass to make it third-and-six, but Jaylen McCollough was there to break up the would-be first down reception.

Tennessee’s next drive started with a seven-yard pass from Nico to Chas Nimrod, but the offense followed with five plays on the ground for 18 yards. Then, Nico got sacked on second-and-seven, followed by a fumbled snap by the freshman QB. Ross’ punt hit inside the 10 and Gabe Jeudy-Lally downed the ball at the four.

With Iowa backed up into its own endzone, the Hawkeyes lost one yard on the ground on first down, gained four yards on a pass play before James Pearce stripped-sacked Hill while Dominic Bailey recovered the ball at Iowa’s two-yard line.

Tennessee went with Sampson on first down for no gain. Tennessee ran a play to try to get the ball to the tight end in the end zone, but he was covered and Nico slithered his way into the end zone for his third rushing TD of the game.

This recap has gotten long enough, so from here on, we’re just gonna hit the highlights. One play into the fourth quarter, Pearce dropped into coverage and picked off a terrible pass from Deacon Hill and took it back 52 yards for a touchdown.

Iowa brought in freshman, third-string QB Matt Lainez for its drive that started with 14:15 in the fourth, and the drive consisted primarily of Lainez rushes. He had runs of 10, 12, 16 and 12 yards before he threw an incompletion on fourth-and-six.

The Vols needed just eight plays to score their fourth TD of the game, with Iamaleava going 3-3 for 28 yards and an 18-yard TD pass to McCallan Castles.

Stats and other notable figures

  • In his first career start, Nico Iamaleava scored four of Tennessee’s five TDs — three on the ground as he rushed for 27 yards on 15 attempts. He also went 12-19 through the air for 151 yards and one TD
  • This was the Vols’ first shutout of the season
  • Dylan Sampson led the team with 20 carries and 133 yards, while Cam Seldon had 13 carries for 55 yards
  • Andre Turrentine, who started in place of departure Wesley Walker, had three tackles, one interception and one PBU
  • Tyre West stepped up and played well on the defensive front with three tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1.5 TFLs
  • James Pearce had three tackles, one sack, one interception returned for a TD, one QB hurry and one forced fumble
  • Jerimiah Tealander and Gabe Jeudy-Lally tied for the team lead in tackles with five each
  • Elijah had four tackles, one sack, two TFLs and one PBU
  • Altogether, Tennessee had five sacks, eight TFLs and two interceptions — one returned for a TD
  • UT had 3 penalties for 30 yards after being one of the most penalized teams in the country during the regular season