Tennessee (8-5) overcame a 16-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to edge Indiana (8-5) in the Gator Bowl Thursday night in Jacksonville. Two touchdowns within 30 seconds of each other pushed the Vols out in front, 23-22, and Indiana’s long field goal attempt to regain the lead in the final minutes fell no good. Jeremy Pruitt won his first bowl game as head coach of the Vols, while Indiana’s bowl win drought drags on for another year.
After sitting out the first half to serve a suspension, Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings entered the game after halftime. Any hope of Jennings providing a spark for the Vols seemingly faded as Jarrett Guarantano was intercepted by Jamar Johnson on Tennessee’s third play of the second half (after Indiana scored a go-ahead touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter). Johnson returned the interception 63 yards for a touchdown, giving Indiana a 16-6 lead after a missed extra point attempt. Jennings ended the game with two receptions for 27 yards.
Tennessee pulled closer with a field goal on the next possession and came closer with a long touchdown drive with Quavis Crouch running form the one-yard line to bring the Vols within six points. Indiana was not prepared for an onside kick, which was recovered easily by Tennessee, and Eric Gray gave the Vols the 23-22 lead with a 16-yard touchdown run up the middle of the Indiana defense.
Tennessee had opportunities to build a big lead in the first half but managed to score just six points on three red-zone trips. Indiana had a turnover on downs and the Vols settled for two field goals on their other trips, allowing Indiana to hang around at halftime. Indiana dominated the third quarter with a 16-3 advantage in the third quarter to take a 19-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
The win by Tennessee improved the SEC to 7-2 this bowl season, easily the best bowl record among all conferences this bowl season. The SEC is 2-1 against the ACC (with LSU facing Clemson in the national championship game), 3-0 against the Big 12 and 2-1 against the Big Ten. The Big Ten closes out its postseason with a 4-5 record with losing records to the SEC and Pac-12 (1-2) and drawing even with the ACC (1-1).
Indiana will open the 2020 season with a Big Ten opener in Madison. The Hoosiers visit reigning Big Ten West Division champion Wisconsin on Sept. 5 to begin the new season. Indiana will host Western Kentucky in their home opener the following week on Sept. 12.
Tennessee will open its 2020 season at home against Charlotte on Sept. 5. The Vols travel to Oklahoma the following week and close out September with a home game against Florida.