Need some early advice for the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day between Iowa and Tennessee?
Prepare for punts. Lots and lots of punts.
The Hawkeyes have played 13 games this season, and there have been at least 11 combined punts in every one of them. In Iowa's consecutive mid-October contests against Wisconsin and Minnesota, there were 18 combined punts both times.
Whenever teams start exchanging punts with Iowa, they usually start losing ground due to 6-foot-4, 232-pound senior weapon Tory Taylor.
"I haven't watched a bunch of him, but I do know statistically that he's one of the best in the country," Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said Sunday night after the pairing was announced. "He's been a huge part of them flipping and changing field position."
Tennessee's 48 punts through 12 games have already surpassed its 39 in 13 contests last season, when the Volunteers led the nation with 525.5 yards and 46.1 points per game.
Taylor's first punt of 50-plus yards in Orlando will be the 100th of his career. He leads the nation with a whopping 86 punts and with 316.8 punting yards per game, with his average of 47.9 yards per attempt ranking third.
The 2022 All-American and 2023 midseason All-American has averaged a robust 46.0 yards per punt throughout his four-year career, and he hails from Melbourne, Australia, which is also the home of Vols redshirt freshman punter Jackson Ross. The two Citrus Bowl punters are a combined 50 years old, with Taylor the elder statesman at 26.
"When I first heard of Iowa, I was like, 'Where is it?'" Taylor said during an interview with the Big Ten Network. "I didn't want to go to Iowa. That didn't interest me at all."
Both Ross and Taylor grew up playing Australian Rules Football, but Ross stuck with it longer. Taylor admitted he lost his love for it and began working jobs in construction and at a golf course before deciding to give punting a try.
Taylor eventually fell in love with a "family feel" at Iowa, signed with the Hawkeyes and became a freshman All-American in 2020, when one of his most memorable punts was a 39-yarder in the snow against Wisconsin. He had dropped a low snap and just kicked the ball off of the ground and into Badgers territory.
Stardom at Iowa came quickly, and soon there were "Punting is Winning" t-shirts with the outline of Australia being sold for charity.
This past weekend, longtime ESPN analyst Mel Kiper listed Taylor as his top kicker or punter in the 2024 NFL draft. Taylor is now very appreciative of his time in Iowa City and throughout Big Ten venues, even on the roughest weather days.
"Teams look into that stuff," Taylor told reporters last week. "That's why I wanted to come to the Big Ten and perform in crappier weather. You've got to be able to perform no matter where it is. Our season is pretty much done, but the NFL has another couple of months.
"It's crazy to think about what it might be like if I'm fortunate enough to get there."
And they're off...
Monday marked the opening of the NCAA's 30-day window for the transfer portal, and several Tennessee players did not take long to enter.
Submitting their names in the portal were fifth-year senior cornerbacks Warren Burrell and Brandon Turnage, who plan to go elsewhere for their "super senior" seasons that were implemented by the NCAA after the 2020 coronavirus outbreak, redshirt freshman guard Mo Clipper and freshman safety Jack Luttrell.
Burrell was a 12-game starter in 2021 and started the first two games last year before sustaining a season-ending injury. He has played sparingly this season but did collect the first interception of his career against the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Turnage transferred from Alabama following the 2020 season and was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week following his 14 tackles and two tackles for loss during the 45-20 win over South Carolina in 2021. He made five starts last season but also played sparingly this year.
Clipper's five snaps this season transpired in the opener against Virginia, while Luttrell did not see action.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].