Tennessee freshman eager for Outland challenge

Rick Brown

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett has had an impressive freshman season.

He was a second-team all-Southeastern Conference selection after posting 20.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks, the most ever by a true freshman at Tennessee.

The next challenge for this 6-foot-3, 267-pound rookie will be Iowa senior tackle and Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff in Friday's TaxSlayer Bowl at Everbank Field.

"He's physical, and he plays really hard," Barnett said of the 6-5, 320-pound Scherff.

Asked how much he'd go head-to-head with Scherff on Friday, Barnett said, "A lot. It's a great challenge."

The Barnett-Scherff duel is a telling reflection of the experience both teams will bring to the field Friday.

Tennessee’s Derek Barnett (9) rushes in for a sack against Chattanooga on Oct. 11. Barnett was a second-team all-Southeastern Conference selection after posting 20.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks.

Tennessee is one of the youngest teams in Division I football. Coach Butch Jones starts five true freshmen, four sophomores, four redshirt sophomores and just three seniors.

"A lot of them are mature beyond their years," Jones said Monday. "A lot of them have had to play out of necessity. It's where we're at in the building of this football program."

Iowa starts 10 seniors and seven juniors.

"They're an older, veteran football team," Jones said of Iowa. "They're able to redshirt their players, and their players grow up in their system. And when you watch them on film you see a team that is very fundamentally sound in all aspects of football. The way they use their hands. Their overall pad level on the line of scrimmage. They've done a great job of developing that. And that's a product of their systems, and those systems being in place for many, many years."

That experience is magnified in bowl experience. The only Tennessee player to previously make a bowl trip is senior punter Matt Darr, who was redshirted when the Volunteers played in the 2010 Music City Bowl. Seventeen of Iowa's 22 starters have previous bowl experience.

"Their fifth-year seniors are on their fourth bowl appearance," Jones said. "So they understand what goes into preparing for a bowl, being able to X-out all the clutter and distractions and really focus on the job at hand. They do what they do and they execute it well and with a high level of physicality."