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Iowa vs. Tennessee Citrus Bowl 2023 Betting Analysis: Hawkeyes’ Defense Is Too Tough

Andrew Kraus Iowa Hawkeyes Michigan Wolverines
Andrew Kraus #87 of the Iowa Hawkeyes catches the ball against the Michigan Wolverines during the Big Ten Championship. Michael Hickey/Getty Images/AFP

The sportsbooks have released their odds for the Citrus Bowl between Iowa and Tennessee, and the Volunteers are favored heavily.

While they play the more attractive brand of football, sometimes the uglier team makes for the more profitable investment.

For your best bets, I will recommend wagering on Iowa because of its superior defense.

Top Pick


Iowa Hawkeyes vs. Tennessee Volunteers

Monday, January 01, 2024 – 01:00 ET at Camping World Stadium


Tennessee Offense’s Resume

The Volunteers will have an immensely difficult time scoring in this game because they have not fared well against the stronger defenses they’ve faced and because now their offense will face its toughest challenge yet.

In the regular season, the Vols faced three top-20 defenses: Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama. Their offense scored 20 points against Bama – but none in the second half – 13 against Texas A&M, and 10 against Georgia. So far, Georgia’s defense, which ranks ninth, has been its toughest test. Iowa’s defense ranks fourth.

My point will be that Tennessee is unlikable as a favorite in this game because its struggle to score points will make it very easy for Iowa to cover the spread.

Key Absence

Tennessee’s endeavor to score will be made all the more difficult by the absence of its star running back, Jaylen Wright, who exceeded 1,000 yards rushing. He’s opted out of this game.

His 75-yard touchdown run is the only touchdown that Tennessee’s offense managed against Georgia. He was, by far, the Volunteers’ best offensive weapon against the Aggies.

Without him, Tennessee loses a critical piece of its offense that would have given it a shimmer of hope against Iowa’s defense

Joe Milton’s Struggles

Wright’s absences place greater responsibility on the shoulders of quarterback Joe Milton, who is not up for such a difficult task, because his deficiencies as a quarterback are too immense.

He is well-known for struggling with accuracy. Video footage illustrates his tendency to fail to place the ball where it needs to go. His inaccuracy makes it difficult to complete passes. This difficulty is especially visible in his stat lines against strong defenses, where the margin of error for a quarterback is much smaller.

Against the Aggies, for example, he completed 50 percent of his passes. While he did a little better efficiency-wise against Georgia, his higher (but still poor) efficiency depended on his throwing short passes – he averaged 4.9 yards per attempt.

Iowa’s Defense

Iowa’s nationally fourth-ranked defense is well-rounded. Their elite secondary makes it difficult for opposing quarterbacks – especially when they struggle with accuracy like Milton. This is because its defensive backs boast superb skills in coverage.

The Hawkeyes’ run defense is also excellent. An example is provided by their success against Michigan running back Blake Corum, who exceeded 1,000 rushing yards on 4.7 YPC. They held Corum to 52 rushing yards on 3.3 YPC.

Iowa will have no trouble with Tennessee’s backup running back, while Milton will fail to carry his offense.

Tennessee Point Prediction

Whereas Iowa beat its bowl opponent last year, Kentucky, 21-0, I don’t think that Tennessee will quite get shut out, but it will struggle to reach the ten points that it did against Georgia’s defense.

This entails that Iowa will just need a couple of field goals in order to cover the spread fairly comfortably.

Key Advantage For Iowa’s Offense

Except against elite defenses – Penn State and Michigan rank one-two – Iowa’s offense has reached double digits in every game.

One should expect double digits from Iowa’s offense against a non-elite defense like Tennessee’s that has allowed all of its Power Five opponents to score at least 13 points.

Defensively, the Volunteers will be especially disadvantaged because their secondary has been dismantled. Three of their four starters in their secondary and a total of six defensive backs will be absent from this game. These absences will benefit Iowa’s entire offense because a secondary contributes to its defense’s run support as well as to pass coverage.

Deacon Hill

Iowa will succeed especially through the air against Tennessee with its depleted secondary that was already below-average, ranking 69th nationally, in pass defense in the regular season.

Deacon Hill, Iowa’s quarterback, has used his accuracy to find success even against strong pass defenses, as when he completed 64.5% of his passes against Rutgers’ 18th-ranked pass defense. The key for him is to be comfortable to avoid throwing desperation passes that have gotten him in trouble.

Tennessee’s struggle to score will allow Hill to be comfortable.

Takeaway

Iowa will have an easier time reaching double digits than Tennessee, yet it is dogged by over a touchdown. I foresee a 17-13-type game in the Hawkeyes’ favor.

An Iowa win almost automatically entails an “under,” but Tennessee’s depletion on defense keeps the “under” in the “lean” category for me, but if I had to play the total, I would recommend the “under.”

Iowa’s defense will certainly contribute to a lower-scoring game, and its defense does the most to explain why the Hawkeyes are worth investing in.

NCAAF Pick: Iowa +8 (-110) at Bet365 (check our Bet365 Review)

*The line and/or odds referenced in this article might have changed since the content was published. For the latest information on line movements, visit OddsTrader’s free betting odds tool.

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