Iamaleava leads Vols to Citrus Bowl win

Published 1:34 pm Friday, January 5, 2024

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No. 21 Tennessee shutout No. 17 Iowa, 35-0, in the 2024 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl as true freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava shined in his first-career start, accounting for four touchdowns in the Vols’ second straight bowl win.

Iamaleava made his first start for the Vols against Iowa’s stout defense that had held opponents to just 13.2 points per game (fourth in FBS) and 274.8 yards per game (fifth in FBS). He guided Tennessee’s offense to 383 total yards against the Hawkeyes.

The Cheez-It Citrus Bowl MVP, Iamaleava went 12-of-19 for 151 yards and a touchdown through the air, while totaling three touchdowns on the ground to go along with 27 yards rushing.

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Sophomore running back Dylan Sampson also made his first-career start for Tennessee on New Year’s Day, carrying the ball 20 times for 133 yards. Freshman tailback Cameron Seldon saw his most action of the season as he picked up 55 yards on 13 carries.

Tennessee (9-4) had a dominating performance on the defensive side of the ball as it shut out Iowa. Edge James Pearce Jr. led the charge for UT’s defense as he recorded four tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown. Sophomore defensive lineman Tyre West added 1.5 sacks as Tennessee pressured the Hawkeyes throughout the game.

Iowa (10-4) allowed five sacks on the day as the Big Ten West Champion was held scoreless for the second consecutive game and the third time this season.

On the first play of the second quarter, Iamaleava took a quarterback draw over the right side of the offensive line as he scampered in for a 19-yard rushing touchdown – the first rushing score of his career. The play capped off a seven-play, 73-yard drive and opened the scoring in the game.

The true freshman quarterback added a second first-half touchdown on Tennessee’s next drive as he rushed left for three yards to find the end zone.

With both defenses playing well, it was UT that forced the game’s first turnover. Iowa was backed up against its own end zone when Pearce Jr. sacked Hawkeye quarterback Deacon Hill and forced a fumble that defensive lineman Dominic Bailey recovered on the 2-yard line.

Two plays later, Iamaleava rolled out to the left before tucking the ball and diving across the goaline for a 2-yard touchdown. The score was his third of the game, tying a Tennessee bowl game record with three rushing touchdowns – matching Joshua Dobbs (2016 Music City Bowl) and James Stewart (1994 Gator Bowl).

Pearce Jr. stepped up again for the Vols early in the fourth quarter as he picked off Hill and returned the interception 52 yards for his first-career touchdown and Tennessee’s fifth defensive score of the season.

The Vols added a final score with 4:48 left in the game as Iamaleava found tight end McCallan Castles for an 18-yard touchdown pass.

Tennessee’s 35 points scored are the most points given up by Iowa this season.

With the victory, the Vols cap another successful season under head coach Josh Heupel as they finish with at least nine wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2014-15. Tennessee has now won six consecutive Florida bowl games on the field dating to the 2008 Outback Bowl.