JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When listening to Tennessee players and coach Butch Jones talk about facing Iowa, the conversation first shifts to the Hawkeyes' offensive line.
"They're very big and physical up front," Jones said Wednesday. "The team that we played that was very big and physical up front was Alabama, in terms of their size and the structure of their offense."
The passion and energy is evident in the second-year Vols coach.
Alabama, of course, will be aiming for its fourth national title since 2009 when the first College Football Playoff starts Thursday.
Although Iowa is 7-5 and no Crimson Tide, its reputation as a factory of NFL linemen is valid. Outland Trophy-winning left tackle Brandon Scherff will be the next man into the NFL from Kirk Ferentz's program.
"Watching film, the first thing that pops out is their offensive line, all across the board," Tennessee all-Southeastern Conference defender Curt Maggitt said. "Real big guys; they have physical guys."
Maggitt, Barnett have combined for 22 sacks this season.
Never mind that Iowa finished 10th in the 14-team Big Ten in rushing offense (156.3 yards per game) and yards per carry (3.9). The technique and physicality demonstrated by Iowa — and Scherff — is something that second-year UT coach Jones models his program after.
Jones has the number 63 splattered all over the Anderson Training Center back in Knoxville. He calls it "the 63 mentality." Which is?
"The average football play lasts four to six seconds long," Jones said. "The standard in our football program is you play for six seconds, and you give three great efforts on every single snap."
Jones says Iowa's front five of Scherff (6-foot-5, 320 pounds), Austin Blythe (6-3, 290), Tommy Gaul (6-3, 280), Sean Welsh (6-3, 285) and Andrew Donnal (6-7, 305) does exactly that.
It's something that has drawn the attention of the young Tennessee defensive line, led by true freshman Derek Barnett (201/2 tackles for loss, 10 sacks), who will be matched up against Scherff.
"Their offensive front defines 63 for them," Jones said. "They play exceptionally hard. It's going to be a great challenge, but also a great opportunity."
Tennessee frosh DL looks to go head-to-head with Iowa's Scherff Rick Brown/The Register