Taxslayer Bowl matchup to watch: Iowa's Brandon Scherff looks to stop Tennessee's Derek Barnett
Derek Barnett made an immediate impact during his first season at Tennessee. The former four-star prospect became the first freshman in school history to open the season at defensive end, while also setting the freshman school record for sacks (10) and tackles for loss (20.5).
The Nashville, Tenn., native progressed through the season as the Vols faced tough SEC competition. Barnett had multiple games with three sacks (Ole Miss and South Carolina) and four tackles for loss (Ole Miss and Kentucky).
However, the true freshman will have his hands full in Tennessee’s bowl game.
The Vols face the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Taxslayer Bowl on Jan. 2, 2015. The Hawkeyes continue their history of talent in the trenches with one of the nation’s best offensive tackles, Brandon Scherff.
Scherff is a finalist for the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation’s top interior lineman. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound senior is projected to be a first round pick in the 2015 NFL draft and has drawn comparisons to former Iowa stars Marshal Yanda, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff.
Scherff has been named the Big Ten’s top lineman and is a two-time first-team all-league pick. He has the strength — which is expected given his massive frame — and agility to stop an opposing pass rush. Despite battling a knee injury this fall, Scherff remained the most consistent player on Iowa’s offense, protecting quarterback Jake Rudock’s blind side.
The matchup between Barnett and Scherff will be the most intriguing position battle in the Taxslayer Bowl. The freshman star facing the grizzled veteran in a meeting of two of the nation’s top players at their respective positions.
Barnett had faced tough matchups all season, but none as impressive as Scherff. Prior to his injury, the tackle was regarded as one of the nation’s best players at any position.
But Barnett has already exceeded expectations throughout his first season and should provide a solid showing for Tennessee. The matchup between the two standout players will one to look out for this January.