JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Remember when Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz used the word "embarrassing" to describe his team's effort in Big Ten losses at Maryland and Minnesota?
I do. It was the unvarnished truth.
Ferentz was asked Wednesday who Tennessee, the Hawkeyes' opponent in Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl, reminded him of.
"Want the bad news?" Ferentz said. "Maryland and Minnesota come to mind right away. Hopefully we'll do a little better job of defending the quarterback."
We introduce you to Josh Dobbs, the Volunteers' dual-threat quarterback. A sophomore, Dobbs became the starter four games ago. Tennessee went 3-1, riding the arm and legs of Dobbs to sneak in the back door of bowl eligibility at 6-6. The Volunteers got there against a demanding Southeastern Conference schedule, with one of the youngest teams in the nation.
Vols 3-1 with Dobbs as a starter this season.
Iowa is an older, more experienced team. But the Hawkeyes are 7-5, in no small measure because of their struggles at stopping dual-threat quarterbacks. Maryland rallied from a 14-0 deficit to the Hawkeyes behind dual-threat quarterback C.J. Brown, who ran for 99 yards and passed for 120 in a 38-31 victory. Brown racked up those numbers even though he was knocked out of the game for a good stretch.
Iowa's defense struggled to bottle up Brown, or get clean shots at him. Same for Minnesota's Mitch Leidner, who ran for 77 yards and passed for 138 more, including four touchdowns, in a 51-14 victory.
Asked how playing against Brown and Leidner would help prepare his team to stop Dobbs and Tennessee, Ferentz laughed — with the kind of laugh that's not intended to be funny.
"They'd be foolish not to attack us in a similar manner, and I'm sure we'll get tested in the same way," Ferentz said. "The question is: Can we do a better job if taking away some of the things that hurt us in those games?"
Tennessee coach Butch Jones started senior Justin Worley at quarterback for most of the season. Worley was injured before the eighth game, against Alabama. Jones started sophomore Nathan Peterman against the Crimson Tide, but put in Dobbs and has stuck with him ever since. Dobbs has passed for 885 yards and run for 218 in his four starts coming into the Iowa game. Tennessee averaged 35 points over those four games.
"To me, the turning point this year was those last four games," Ferentz said. "Any time you play a dual-threat guy like that, it's a unique challenge. We'll have to be at our best."
Better than they were against Maryland and Minnesota, for sure. Jones calls Dobbs, an aerospace engineering major, a cerebral player and a true student-athlete.
"He can run and throw, and that gives us another element you have to worry about," Iowa linebacker Quinton Alston said. "If he doesn't see a guy open, he's going to run with it. You have to be disciplined in your attack and your approach."
Jones said the dynamic of the Tennessee team was transformed when Dobbs, who also started four games last season, moved to No. 1 this season.
"All the other players have rallied behind him," Jones said. "He has leadership characteristics, he's taken control and they believe in him. And that's the biggest thing. They believe in him."
Dobbs called Iowa "a very disciplined defense, a very physical defense, and it shows on film. Our goal is to execute the gameplan. We know what we have to do and need to do."
And the Hawkeyes know what they have to do and need to do to keep Dobbs in check. To keep Friday from becoming another Maryland or Minnesota. And to erase the word "embarrassing" from Ferentz's vocabulary.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.