Iowa vs. Tennessee kicks off this Monday (01/01/24) at 1:00pm EST in Orlando Florida as the host site for the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl. Get Iowa vs. Tennessee predictions and best bets below as our best bet is on Iowa +6 as the Hawkeye defense rattles the Vols true freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava.
Iowa Vs. Tennessee Prediction
Most of the time in bowl season, opt outs equal a lower level of production as backups take over. In Tennessee’s case, Joe Milton opting out may be a good thing for their offense as he was a shaky quarterback at best. A rocket arm yet horrifically inaccurate at times, now turning the reins over to true freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava who was highly touted as the next big thing during recruitment. For an updated list of opt outs, transfer portal entrants, and injuries, you can read it all here.
While Nico may be an upgrade over Milton in the long run, starting a true freshman against the Iowa defense may come with disastrous results. Iowa’s defense has once again run as one of the best units in football, ranking seventh as a whole in Def Success Rate, second in Def Explosiveness, and fifth in Def Points per Opportunity. Havoc took a step back, finishing the year ranked 70th in that department, yet the Hawkeyes defense had no issue with creating early outs and stalled out drives.
With minimal opt outs on their end, the Iowa defensive metrics stay concrete which spells doom for the Vols offense. That puts them in a great position to succeed, especially since the Vols will also be without star running back Jaylen Wright. Wright was their lone source of consistent success, carrying the Vols offense to rushing ranks of 38th in Rush Success Rate, 21st in Rush PPA, and 28th in Rush Explosiveness. Without Wright, that puts more stress on Nico to thrive against an elite defense.
Speaking of Nico and his chances of cracking the Iowa secondary, his hopes look bleak as Iowa has thrived in coverage. The Hawkeyes back end comes into this contest ranked 12th in Def Pass Success Rate, eighth in Def Pass PPA, and first in Def Pass Explosiveness. Better yet, a true freshman usually brings in a higher chance of turnover worthy plays. That helps Iowa’s offense in the form of a turnover, flipping the field in their favor.
When on offense, expect a potential uptick in success due to Tennessee’s defense being decimated by opt outs. Tennessee is losing starting production at all three levels of the defense, potentially giving Iowa’s offense a chance to find more consistent success than what their near dead last metrics in Success Rate and PPA indicate. Tennessee already ranks league average in Def Pass Success Rate and PPA, now being more prone than ever to getting picked apart for minimal gains at a time.
Iowa Vs. Tennessee Prediction: Iowa +6
Iowa Vs. Tennessee Best Odds
Even with a true freshman under center for the Vols, oddsmakers still have this as Tennessee’s game to lose by opening them as a -7.5 favorite. Bettors believe that opened a tad too high, backing the Hawkeyes down to as low as +5.5 as of writing. With Jaylen Wright also out, as well as a potential increase for turnovers, expect Iowa’s defense to keep this within the number.
As for the total, points are expected to be scored at a snail’s pace as oddsmakers opened the number at 36.5. Bettors believe points will come at an even slower pace as they have bet the under down to 35.5 in some shops. This is in correlation with the Hawkeyes chances of overing, using their defense to drastically slow down the Vols scoring pace.
Iowa Vs. Tennessee Key Matchups
Can Leshon Williams find success against the Tennessee front seven?
Leshon Williams Vs. Tennessee Front Seven
Iowa’s horrific offensive metrics are not just geared towards their pass attack as their rush metrics have been just as putrid. Their ground game comes into this contest ranked 131st in Rush Success Rate, 133rd in Rush PPA, and 128th in Rush Explosiveness.
LESHON WILLIAMS 82 YARDS TO THE HOUSE! pic.twitter.com/vzBFKKWaLn
— Heavens! (@HeavensFX) October 14, 2023
Even to minimal success, expect another heavy dose of the run as the Hawkeyes utilize the ground game at the 31st heaviest rate in the nation. Lead back Leshon Williams should find more success this time around against a decimated Vols defense, ticking their above average rush defense marks back due to their missing starting production. Factor in potential friendly field position and Iowa should see an uptick in scoring opportunities as well.