Through three-quarters of the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl, Tennessee’s five-star freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava has run for three touchdowns and has Volunteers fans excited about the future of the program.
In 2022, Hendon Hooker executed Josh Heupel’s offense perfectly and Tennessee climbed to No. 1 in the country before some late-season struggles. Tennessee was first in points per game at 46.1 and first in total offense gaining 525.5 yards per game.
This year, with Joe Milton III at quarterback, the Vols fell to 31.5 points per game and 453.5 yards of total offense per game which ranked 17th. The Vols led more on the run game and were 47th in passing offense, but 2024 could look a lot more like the dream season of 2022 with Iamaleava starting at quarterback for the full season.
Iamaleava got his first career start in the Citrus Bowl against Iowa on New Year’s Day and has been using his legs to carve up the No. 5 total defense in the country. Coming into the game, Iowa had only allowed four total rushing touchdowns this season, but Iamaleava ran for three in three quarters.
Through the third quarter, Iamaleava has only gone 9/16 passing for 119 yards, but he has led Tennessee to 288 yards of total offense and has run the ball 15 times for 27 yards. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has been enough for Vols fans to buy into the future of the program and fall in love with their new quarterback.
Iamaleava has thrown the ball well, but there weren’t many fans who expected his dual-threat ability to be so important. His three rushing touchdowns have prompted a few jokes about his future position.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering here is how to pronounce Iamaleava’s name. You could be hearing it a lot.
Fans may be getting a bit ahead of themselves, but the hype is real with the young quarterback.