May 24, 2024

Phil Parker gearing up defense for Tennessee’s young quarterback

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Phil Parker runs a drill during Holiday Bowl Practice No. 3 Tuesday, December 24, 2019 at San Diego Mesa College. (Brian Ray/

ORLANDO, Fla. — Although Iowa’s Defensive Coordinator won the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant earlier this month, he’s focused on the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl against Tennessee and the unknown.

After all, Phil Parker will be matching wits with Josh Heupel, who has one of the brightest offensive minds in today’s game. The Volunteers have a high-flying offense, but will be operating under true freshman Nico Iamaleava. The former five-star prospect will be making his first career start, after Joe Milton decided to opt out and prepare for the NFL Draft.

Just because Heupel had a change at quarterback at the last minute, doesn’t mean Parker isn’t going to make the proper adjustments. Iowa (10-3) doesn’t have much film on Iamaleava, but Parker believes the scheme will stay the same with him behind center.

“Well, I don’t think the offense is going to change, it’s been very similar to what he’s done in the past,” Parker said. “I think we have about 54 snaps on him (Iamaleava) and I’m sure they have got some other things up their sleeve of what they want to do with them.”

The Volunteers are throwing the Californian to the wolves, and the Hawkeyes have a tenacious defense. It’s hard to argue against that when Parker’s group is third nationally in scoring defense, fifth in yards allowed, and 11th against the run. Iamaleava has only attempted 26 passes all season, so he’s still green in the throwing department.

Regardless, Parker refuses to underestimate the freshman phenom. The kid has a unique skill set, and Heupel will surround him with some dangerous weapons to keep Parker’s defense honest.

Tennessee’s 1,000-yard rusher Jaylen Wright has opted out of the bowl game for the NFL Draft. Which is why Parker is expecting a heavy dose of Dylan Sampson, who has seven rushing scores this season. Heupel’s scheme is very wide receiver-friendly, and Parker is focusing on slowing down the Volunteers’ aerial attack.

“We are going to be have to be able to match their talent outside with the wide receivers they have and the ability to stop the run,” he said. “I think that’s the most important thing that we have to do in any game, you have to make sure you stop the run and try to make them pass it, which, you know, they have a lot of explosive plays and one of our goals is making sure that we don’t give up explosive plays.”

Parker is a former defensive back himself, so he wants his secondary performing like ballhawks. The Hawkeyes are always trying to figure out ways to force turnovers, and their pass rush is ferocious. Linebacker Jay Higgins is a tackling machine and will arguably be the best defender on the field Monday afternoon. Parker will be counting on Higgins to set the tone too.

Tennessee hasn’t faced a defense like Parker’s all year, and the Hawkeyes will be licking their chops going up against an inexperienced signal-caller. He’s confident his unit will be up for the task though, considering the impressive numbers they produced this season.

“Any time you’re only giving up 13 points a game or 13.2, whatever it is, I just think every team is different, and the character of this team and the bond that I think the coaches have with the players has been second-to-none.”