Dec. 27, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. — It was another day of TaxSlayer Bowl preparation for the University of Iowa football team Saturday, a point defensive coordinator Phil Parker says is key to the Hawkeyes’ postseason success since 2001.
Iowa is 6-5 in bowl games under head coach Kirk Ferentz — more wins and the best winning percentage of any Big Ten Conference program during that span.
“It’s our preparation. We come down to the bowl site early and we work hard all the way through,” said Parker following practice at Fernandina Beach High School. “We get some work in and develop our fundamentals and get used to the environment. We’re going to be here a long time; the guys are focused and that last three or four days they’re ready to play the game.”
The Hawkeyes (7-5 overall) take on Tennessee (6-6) on Friday at EverBank Field. Kickoff is set for 2:20 p.m. (CT). The Volunteers arrive in Florida on Monday.
“This has been our schedule, it has worked for us, coach Ferentz believes in it, and it’s good for the kids,” Parker said.
Iowa finished the conference season ranked second in pass defense (175.8 yards per game), sixth in rushing defense (158.8) and sixth in total defense (334.5). Tennessee, during its final four games, averaged 424.3 yards and 35 points a game while compiling a 3-1 record with wins against South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
“They have a lot of skill guys who can catch the ball, they have a good running back, and the quarterback is a dynamic athlete who can throw the ball and also run,” Parker said. “It will be a challenge for us to stop them — they are dangerous.”
“It’s our preparation. We come down to the bowl site early and we work hard all the way through. We get some work in and develop our fundamentals and get used to the environment. We’re going to be here a long time; the guys are focused and that last three or four days they’re ready to play the game.”
UI defensive coordinator
Running the offense for the Volunteers is quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who has passed for 1,077 yards and eight touchdowns, and run the ball for 393 yards and six scores. The leading rusher is Jalen Hurd with 777 yards and three touchdowns.
That’s why the word PREPARE becomes important for the Hawkeyes.
“We have been working on (Tennessee) for the last couple weeks and our guys are getting comfortable with what they see,” Parker said.
Iowa is also more familiar with Iowa.
“We have the right pieces of the puzzle together and everybody is comfortable in their spots,” Parker said.
That comfort is a culmination of a season-long process because of growth of first-time starters Nate Meier at left end, Bo Bower at outside linebacker, Quinton Alston at middle linebacker, Josey Jewell at Will linebacker, Greg Mabin at cornerback, and Jordan Lomax at free safety.
“Now we know who’s who and what they can do,” Parker said. “Understanding what the kids can and can’t do has been the biggest thing for me.”
Bower and Jewell are redshirt freshmen, but at this point of the season — because of their development and taking advantage of bowl preparation — Parker said they are no longer rookies.
“This is almost like spring ball or a sophomore year for them,” Parker said. “We already went through a whole year with those guys so this is just an extension, whether you say it’s the end of the year now or the beginning of next year. It has been good for us.”
In 10 games, Jewell has made 37 tackles with a sack; in 12 games, Bower has 35 tackles and two interceptions.
“These last two weeks have been important for us to improve those guys,” Parker said.
Parker was asked about senior Carl Davis, a second-team All-Big Ten defensive lineman. Davis finished the regular season with 34 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and five quarterback hurries. His total of two sacks interested one reporter.
“I’m not big on who gets all the sacks,” Parker said. “I’m worried about playing sound defense and playing within our system — (Carl) is doing a good job of that.”