Big Orange versus Big Ten

You're always learning something new when you visit InsideTennessee. Check out this story recapping the Football Vols' recent history versus Big Ten teams as the Big Orange prepares to face Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl:

Based on historical precedent, Tennessee will win Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl … unless Penn State somehow replaces Iowa as the Big Ten opponent.

The Vols are 7-3 against Big Ten foes over the past 30 years. The Big Orange is 7-0 against charter members of the conference but 0-3 against the Nittany Lions, who joined the league in 1990.

Much of Tennessee’s success against Big Ten opposition can be traced to the fact SEC teams tend to have more speed and athleticism than their Big Ten counterparts. Certainly, superior quickness was decisive in many of Tennessee’s seven victories.

Will the Vols’ quickness be the difference Friday against Iowa? Maybe. Maybe not. The Hawkeyes are a typical Big Ten teams in terms of heft across the offensive and defensive lines but they have some speed at the so-called skill positions.

“I think Iowa is a stereotypical Big Ten team in the historic sense of being physical and playing its best football when it wins on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” said Rob Howe, publisher of Scout’s HawkeyeInsider website. “The Hawkeyes are more athletic at linebacker than they were five years ago and have some good speed at wide receiver, but the strength of their offense and defense is up front.”

Iowa’s first-team running back is Mark Weisman, a 6-foot, 240-pounder who averaged 3.9 yards per carry in 2014 with 14 touchdowns and a long run of 38 yards. He’s a typical Big Ten bruiser.

“Speed is not his game,” Howe said.

Jordan Canzeri averaged 4.2 yards per carry as the chief backup, totaling 374 yards with a long run of just 20 yards.

“Jordan Canzeri is a quick back who complements Weisman well when healthy, which hasn't been often enough for the Hawkeyes this season,” Howe noted.

Damon Bullock is the Hawkeyes’ version of Devrin Young, a guy who splits time as a receiver (32 catches, 8.3 yards per catch) and a rusher (27 carries, 2.7 yards per carry).

Howe describes Bullock as “a productive third-down back when healthy, which, again, has been too infrequent this season.”

Iowa’s third-leading rusher is Akrum Wadley, who averaged a whopping 6.2 yards per carry in limited action en route to 185 net yards.

“Akrum Wadley joins Canzeri as the most explosive of the Iowa backs,” Howe said, “but he has struggled to hang onto the football, which gets you a lot of time on the sideline at Iowa.

Iowa uses Jonathan Parker much as Tennessee utilizes Pig Howard.

“The coaches try to get Jonathan Parker in space with the jet sweep,” Howe said. “He hasn't been given much of a chance to carry the ball like a traditional running back.”

Like Tennessee, Iowa has a blend of route-runners and speedsters at wide receiver. Kevonte Martin-Manley led in receptions (49) but averaged a pedestrian 10.1 yards per catch. Tevaun Smith ranked second in grabs (41) but averaged a solid 13.6 yards. The big-play guys are Damond Powell (17.8 yards per catch on 18 receptions) and Matt Vandeberg (18.5 yards per catch on 12 receptions).

Howe tabbed Powell as Iowa’s “best deep threat,” although Smith also has speed to burn. Howe said Martin-Manley and Vandeberg “rely more on strong route running and the willingness to go over the middle to get downfield.”

Here’s a brief recap of Tennessee games against Big Ten schools over the past 30 years:

1986: Tennessee 21, Minnesota 14 (Liberty Bowl): Jeff Francis competed 22 of 31 passes for 243 yards and three touchdown passes to offset a brilliant rushing performance by Gopher freshman Darrell Thompson (25 carries, 136 yards).

1987: Tennessee 23, No. 16 Iowa 22 (Kickoff Classic): Phil Reich booted a 20-yard field goal with three seconds left to give the Vols a thrilling victory in the ’87 Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Vol freshman Reggie Cobb debuted with 25 carries for 138 yards and linebacker Darrin Miller returned an interception 96 yards for a TD.

1987: Tennessee 27, Indiana 22 (Peach Bowl): A season that opened with a defeat of Iowa concluded with the defeat of another Big Ten team. Reggie Cobb again was the star, rushing 21 times for 145 yards.

1991: No. 6 Penn State 42, Tennessee 17 (Fiesta Bowl): Down 17-7 in the third quarter, the Nittany Lions scored the game’s final 35 points. The Vols outgained PSU 441 to 226 but lost the turnover battle 4-0.

1993: No. 6 Penn State 31,Tennessee 13 (Citrus Bowl): The Nittany Lions used a big finish to beat the Vols for the second time in a row, this time scoring the game’s final 21 points. Heisman Trophy runnerup Heath Shuler completed 22 of 42 passes for 205 yards in his final game for the Vols.

1995: Tennessee 20, No. 4 Ohio State 14 (Citrus Bowl): Tennessee’s Jay Graham outgained OSU Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George 154 to 101 in rushing yards as the Vols upset a Buckeye team ranked No. 1 for most of the season.

1996: Tennessee 48, No. 11 Northwestern 28 (Citrus Bowl): Peyton Manning completed 27 of 39 passes for 408 yards and four touchdowns as the Vols dominated the Wildcats.

2001: Tennessee 45, No. 17 Michigan 17 (Citrus Bowl): Fresh from a heartbreaking SEC championship game loss to LSU that cost the Vols a berth in the BCS championship game, Tennessee vented its frustration on the Wolverines. Casey Clausen threw for 393 yards and three TDs – one of them a 64-yarder to tight end Jason Witten, who outran Michigan’s secondary the last 50 yards.

2006: Penn State 20, Tennessee 10 (Outback Bowl): Joe Paterno continued his mastery of the Vols, thanks to an Arian Foster fumble that PSU’s Tony Davis returned 88 yards to break a 10-10 fourth-quarter tie.

2007: Tennessee 21, No. 18 Wisconsin 17 (Outback Bowl): MVP Erik Ainge completed 25 of 43 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns, then safety Antonio Wardlow intercepted at the Vol 1-yard line in the final minute to seal the victory.

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