Tennessee football blitzed No. 17 Iowa Monday afternoon at the Citrus Bowl, winning 35-0 in a game that was never close.

Vols fans got a sneak peek at the future with Nico Iamaleava under center, too. The California native put on a show in Orlando by scoring all 4 of Tennessee’s offensive touchdowns, 3 with his legs and one with his right arm.

The Vols defense stood out, too. Iowa is not exactly known for its revolutionary offensive scheme, but Tennessee was swarming and allowed the Hawkeyes nothing after the first quarter. Tennessee football finishes the 3rd season of the Josh Heupel era 9-4.

Here are 3 takeaways from the Vols’ best win of the year:

Nico Iamaleava lived up to the hype against a strong Iowa defense

Sure, Iowa’s defense was not at full strength. It also garnered most of its elite stats from playing the likes of Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois. I understand all of that.

But true freshman 5-star prospect Nico Iamaleava looked like a 4-year starter against the Hawkeyes Monday afternoon in Orlando. As alluded to earlier, Iamaleava did it with his legs and his arm on Monday in a game where the game plan was obviously meant to attack the Hawkeyes on the ground.

Iamaleava was under pressure for much of Monday’s game. He was sacked 6 times, 4 of which came from pass rusher Joe Evans as Dylan Sampson struggled to pick up his blocking assignments, among other struggles from the O-line.

And through it all, the freshman QB navigated his first start well. He finished with 12 of 19 completions for 151 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions while rushing for 27 yards and 3 touchdowns, which is a Tennessee bowl record.

Here’s Iamaleava’s passing touchdown to TE McCallan Castles. The future is bright in Knoxville, folks:

Dylan Sampson turns in strong day in lieu of Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small

Dylan Sampson became the first Iowa opponent to rush for over 100 yards against their vaunted defense since Michigan State’s Nate Carter did so on September 30 of this season. That’s over 3 months, folks.

Sampson was not perfect on Monday, but he more than did his job in place of Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small, who both declared for the NFL Draft prior to the Citrus Bowl. Sampson finished with 20 carries for 133 yards, an average of 6.7 yards per carry.

And though he struggled some in pass protection Monday, Sampson threw an excellent block to spring Iamaleava’s first rushing touchdown of the afternoon:

James Pearce shines as Vols defense dominates a rough Iowa offense

The Iowa Hawkeyes have not scored an offensive touchdown against a top 25 opponent since Luke Lachey caught a 4th quarter score against Michigan on October 1, 2022. In case you haven’t noticed, the current year is now 2024.

And James Pearce was Tennessee’s most impressive defensive player in Orlando. The sophomore pass rusher finished with 2 tackles, a strip sack and an interception returned for a touchdown. In doing so, Pearce effectively accounted for 2 Tennessee touchdowns Monday.

Here’s his strip sack, which set up an Iamaleava touchdown moments later:

Not even 15 minutes later came Pearce’s pick-6, the first interception of his career. He practically walked into the end zone after jumping a route.

Deacon Hill never even saw him:

Happy New Year, Tennessee fans!