JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Tennessee coach Butch Jones was soaked from a celebratory sideline dousing. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs carried the Most Valuable Player trophy with him all around EverBank Field. Both of them, as well as the rest of the Volunteers, donned championship hats for the first time in years.
It was tangible proof that the program is headed in the right direction.
Dobbs accounted for three touchdowns, Jalen Hurd ran for two scores and Tennessee beat Iowa 45-28 on Friday in the TaxSlayer Bowl for its first postseason victory since the Phillip Fulmer era.
“This is the start of something big that’s going on at Tennessee,” Dobbs said. “It’s momentum that we can carry into the offseason. It’s the start of something big, a lot of momentum going into the offseason to get ready for next year.”
The Volunteers (7-6) took the momentum early Friday, scoring on their first four possessions and leading 28-0 before Iowa (7-6) managed 70 yards.
Hurd, Dobbs and a bit of trickery helped Tennessee build the big lead.
Hurd broke tackles on nearly every run, capping Tennessee’s first possession with a 3-yard score and adding a 29-yard touchdown scamper on the next drive.
Tennessee made it 21-0 late in the first quarter when Dobbs threw a lateral to running back Marlin Lane in the right flat. Lane, a senior from nearby Daytona Beach, turned and hit Vic Wharton in stride down the sideline.
It was a nice send-off for Lane, one of just a handful of Tennessee’s seniors.
But the victory, which was Tennessee’s first in the postseason since beating Wisconsin in the 2008 Outback Bowl, was more about the future. The Vols won four of their last five games, showing plenty of potential for one of the youngest teams in college football.
“We still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress,” said Jones, who finished his second season in Knoxville. “We talk about building this program brick by brick, and we built another brick in the foundation today.”
Jones also delivered the program’s first winning season since 2009. And it’s not out of the question for Tennessee to be a trendy pick to contend for the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division title in 2015.
Hurd and Dobbs could be integral parts.
Hurd, a freshman, had his fourth 100-yard game. He finished with 122 yards — three shy of his career high — and totaled the most yards on the ground by a Tennessee player in a bowl game since Travis Henry ran for 180 against Kansas State in the 2001 Cotton Bowl.
“Jalen really set the temperament of the game for us, getting yards after contact, finishing runs and he just had that look in his eye of ‘give me the ball, coach,'” Jones said. “He earned every yard that he got today.”
Dobbs, a sophomore filling in for injured quarterback Justin Worley, completed 16 of 21 passes for 129 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also ran for 76 yards and two scores. His 19-yard scoring pass to Von Pearson in the closing seconds of the first half made it 35-7. It came one play after the duo hooked up for an 11-yard gain on a ball that was tipped by a defender.
It was that kind of day for Iowa, which was looking for its first postseason victory since the 2010 Insight Bowl.
The Hawkeyes missed tackles, made mistakes and looked like they would end up with their worst bowl loss in school history before scoring three times in the fourth quarter.
“They were ready right from the start, and we certainly couldn’t match their tempo in the first half,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Best execution that we’ve seen from their football team all season long.”
The Volunteers dominated on the field — and in the stands. Tennessee fans vastly outnumbered Iowa fans, not surprising considering they feel really good about the direction of the program under Jones and hadn’t been to a bowl game in several years.
Players kept them entertained, scoring their first six touchdowns in less than 3 1/2 minutes.
“We’ve learned how to win,” Jones said. “Our players expect to win now every time they step on the football field. In anything you do, that’s the starting process.”
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