Dec. 26, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — Blue sky, sunshine, and a cool breeze greeted the University of Iowa football team at its first practice in the state of Florida on Friday on Pirate Field at Fernandina Beach High School.
It is one week until kickoff of the TaxSlayer Bowl that pits the 7-5 Hawkeyes against Tennessee (6-6).
“Since the end of the Nebraska game (Nov. 28) we have been pushing toward this game, counting down the days until we get to face a good opponent,” UI junior wide receiver Jacob Hillyer said. “It’s good to get (practice) started. Some of the guys were a little sore coming off a five-day block of practice. It’s exciting to come into game week and get ready for Tennessee.”
Hillyer, from Somerset, Texas, caught 10 passes this season, including one for a touchdown at Maryland.
Facing good opponents is nothing new for the Hawkeyes. Six teams on their 2014 schedule (including four in a row to end the month of November) are bowl bound; Northern Iowa — its season-opening opponent — advanced to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
UI sophomore cornerback Desmond King is in the midst of his second bowl preparation. One difference from last year is the weather: the Hawkeyes often battled rain showers in Tampa while getting ready for the Outback Bowl.
“Last year it was raining so it was a little slippery and we had trouble seeing the ball,” King said. “Today was sunny with a cool wind. We had people paying more attention and everybody was focused.”
King had two interceptions (one for a 35-yard Pick 6 against Indiana), 54 tackles, and five pass breakups this season. Even though the season has less than six days remaining, King said the Hawkeyes are treating it as another week and not getting ahead of themselves.
“We’re getting comfortable in the playbook and trying to get ready for Tennessee on Jan. 2,” King said. “It’s another step forward.”
King said the team got off to a quick start with Friday’s practice, calling it a “good, up-tempo day.”
Iowa is playing its 12th bowl game in the last 14 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz. The Hawkeyes are 6-5 in those postseason games — more wins than any other program in the Big Ten Conference during that span.
The TaxSlayer Bowl will kick off at 2:20 p.m. (CT) from EverBank Field in Jacksonville on Friday, Jan. 2.