Kirk Ferentz is thrilled. Brandon Scherff is determined. Quinton Alston is eager.
It was an emotional day for the University of Iowa football program, which will play in its 28th postseason bowl game Jan. 2 against Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.
“We’re thrilled to get an invitation to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said Sunday in the All-America Room of the Football Operations Center. “It’s exciting for all of us. We’re looking forward to an opportunity to line up and play again.”
Scherff, a senior offensive lineman, is determined in part because of a season-ending overtime loss to Nebraska on Nov. 28.
“As seniors, it’s our last game to play in a Hawkeye uniform, which is hard to believe,” Scherff said. “I would say we’re determined, we have had a couple good days of practice already. We’re trying to improve and move forward.”
Alston, a senior linebacker, is intrigued by the Big Ten-Southeastern Conference matchup, but to him, opportunity trumps opponent.
“Getting a chance to play football is an honor for me,” Alston said. “I love to play the game, regardless of who we’re lining up against. I’m happy to play, regardless if it is the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, I’m happy to get out there and get another shot to prove myself.”
This is the 12th time in his 16 years as head coach at the UI that Ferentz has led the Hawkeyes to a bowl game. This will be his sixth postseason meeting against an SEC opponent. Iowa lost 21-14 to Louisiana State University of the SEC last season in the Outback Bowl.
“I glanced at (Tennessee’s) schedule, looked at scores and that will be more meaningful once we look at tape,” Ferentz said. “You’re playing an SEC opponent. I know they’ve got good talent and great tradition. They have a great fan following as well. To me it ought to be a great, great matchup.”
Tennessee finished 6-6 overall, 3-5 in the SEC. The Volunteers lost at Oklahoma, Georgia, and Mississippi, and at home to Florida, Alabama, and Missouri.
Ferentz said the Hawkeyes are disappointed after closing the regular season with home losses to Wisconsin and Nebraska by a combined five points to finish 7-5 overall.
“You can’t move backward,” Ferentz said. “Anybody that has ever competed would understand we’re disappointed and we want to do better. That’s our goal. Now we have three-plus weeks to get better as a football team and try to line up and play our best football.”
Iowa has played eight bowl games in the state of Florida (Ferentz has been head coach for seven of those). The first time the Hawkeyes were involved in postseason play in the Sunshine State was in the 1983 Gator Bowl (now the TaxSlayer Bowl). Florida defeated a Hayden Fry-coached Iowa team, 14-6, that day.
“We’re very appreciative and I’ll tell you we would have been appreciative going to any bowl this year and having a chance to play anybody,” Ferentz said. “That’s what you’re competing for and hoping to do, so I’m thrilled to be going to Jacksonville and very thrilled they had faith in us and are rewarding us with a great opportunity.”
(release courtesy of hawkeyesports.com)