The Tennessee Vols hit the football field on Thursday night to a sea of orange, as they took on Indiana in the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. It was a beautiful night in Jacksonville.
It was an interesting start for the Vols after a big interception from Shawn Shamburger set Tennessee up with great field position. On the second series of the game, Jarrett Guarantano hit Ramel Keyton for a 46-yard grab that setup Tennessee inside the red zone. A few plays later, Jeremy Pruitt decided to go for it on 4th down, with Guarantano overthrowing Dominick-Wood Anderson in the corner of the end zone, giving Indiana the ball.
Needing to make up for their last scoreless possession, Tennessee took over at the 27-yard line, looking for points. Enter Eric Gray and Marquez Callaway. The Vols drove down to the seven-yard line, but had to end up settling for a 23-yard field goal from Brent Cimaglia. The way Tennessee was handling the defensive pressure, that’s not how they wanted to end that drive.
If you were looking for a standout player in the first half, look no further than Shamburger. The DB had already recorded an interception in the the first quarter, following that up with a big sack on 3rd down to give Tennessee the ball back. Shamburger and company were causing Indiana problems, especially coming off the corner blitz.
The Vols continued their offensive attack, making it all the way to the Indiana 15-yard line. Just when you started thinking Tennessee had figured it out, the offense stalled out they were forced to kick another field goal. After Guarantano was forced into an in completion on 3rd-and-goal. This gave Tennessee the lead 6-0 in the 2nd quarter This was the time for a big stop for the Vols. As Indiana got the ball back on the kickoff, They went 3-and-out, thanks in large part to Matthew Butler, who had a big sack on 3rd down.
With five minutes left in the half, Tennessee could’ve used a touchdown, but Guarantano threw an off-balanced pass across the middle and was intercepted. That costly turnover set the Hoosiers up in Vols territory. Tennessee was having a hard time wrapping up Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey all through the 1st half, which wasn’t more evident, than on the Hoosiers’ final drive.
Indiana mis-managed the clock horribly to end the first half, not using the only timeout that they had during the last minute of play. The Hoosiers settled for a 23-yard FG as the half expired. Tennessee, who left a bunch of scoring opportunities on the field during the first 30 minutes, led 6-3 at halftime.
There’s no way to sugarcoat the 1st half: Tennessee left way too many points on the field. Running a successful offensive play inside the 10-yard line seemed to continue to be very challenging for the Vols.
The Vols kicked off to start the 2nd half, which looked to be going well until Indiana Ramsey rushed it 16 yards for a first down, giving them sustained life on the opening drive.
Ramsey continued to give the Vols problems, running it to the one-yard line and capping it off with a touchdown. That was a methodical 12=play, 69-yard drive for the Hoosiers. Ramsey had 30 yards of that on the ground. Indiana led 10-6 at the 9:29 mark of the 3rd quarter.
Ty Chandler returned the ensuing kickoff 46 yards. That was the only bright spot of the drive, as Guarantano hit Indiana’s Jamar Johnson in the chest for a pick-six. The throw was headed for Jauan Jennings, who had just returned to the game after his SEC-mandated first half suspension. Unfortunately for the Vols, Indiana was ready for the pass and ran in back 63 yards..
Tennessee wasted no time in the 2nd half with the QB position, as Brian Maurer entered the game for the Vols after the pick-six. Maurer connected with Josh Palmer for a very big 17-yard 1st down gain to extend the drive. Gray backed it up with a 17-yard run, giving the Vols great field position.
After a few errant throws, which were lucky not to be returned for touchdowns, the Vols settled for a 43-yard field goal from Cimaglia. Tennessee had cut the deficit to 16-9 at the 4:11 mark of the 3rd quarter. It wasn’t pretty, but somehow Tennessee managed to get points off that drive, thanks in most part to a good run game.
The Hoosiers couldn’t get past the 31-yard line of Tennessee, but did capitalize on points with a 49-yard field goal to extend their lead to 19-9.
As we headed to the 4th quarter, Tennessee had 257 total yards, compared to 189 yards from Indiana. The QB play was totally opposite and the run game just wasn’t adding up for the Vols, though it rarely has.
After inserting Guarantano back into the game, Tennessee went 3-and-out on its next drive. Tack on a horrible punt and Indiana had great field position at the Vols’ 47. This team was in trouble, with not a lot of time to figure it out.
In a moment where Tennessee needed there defense to step up again, the Vols held Indiana to a field goal. The Hoosiers led 22-9 with 10:27 left in the game. The defense could only do so much for this team, as they’d spent a good amount of time on the field so far in the game.
If you’ve followed the QB situation at Tennessee this season, it’s not surprise that Guarantano stayed in the football game after multiple bad possessions. That’s just how the QBs have been managed this season.
But wow, did things take a crazy turn towards the end. Tennessee drove the field with Quavaris Crouch running it in from two yards out, as the Vols cut deficit to 22-16.
Then, in one of the craziest plays of the season, Pruitt decided to onside kick with the ensuing kickoff, which Tennessee recovered after the ball traveled exactly 10 yards. It went from kind of wild to straight bonkers.
It was the Eric Gray Show from there, with a 16-yard TD run as the Vols finally took the lead and never looked back, though it got close.
Indiana had just enough time to drive the field, as kicker Logan Justus missed a 52-yard FG for Indiana. Though the Hoosiers got one more chance to get in range, Tennessee stopped them on a 4th down to seal it up.
This team did what they’ve done for the past eight games: they kept fighting. One way or the other, this team was going to make it interesting, which is exactly what they did. You’ll have a bunch of crazy memories about this 2019 season and a bunch of “What If’s,” but looking back on this season, the seniors wanted it their way.
They wanted to go out winners. I’d say that accomplished that & more.
There’s not much left to say about the 2019 season, besides: Wow