By Alex Norman
You’d have won a lot of bets if you laid down a few bucks on the Vols bowl game chances when they say at 1-4 and looked like a team ready to give up on the season. But they persevered, won six of their last seven games, and will face Indiana in the Gator Bowl on January 2nd in Jacksonville.
“I feel like our seniors and our coaching staff did a fantastic job keeping this group together,” said Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt. “We have a very young and inexperienced team and they stayed together and showed a lot of resiliency and fight and hung in there and we found a way to win ball games down the stretch. I’m really proud of the opportunity this team has presented itself with and giving these seniors the opportunity to play one more time.”
“It (the Gator Bowl) has a great history, great tradition, and is in a great part of the country to come and play,” said Tennessee athletics director Phillip Fulmer. “I’ve experienced it as a player way back when, and as a head coach had a fantastic experience with the Gator Bowl. I’m looking forward to being back as the athletic director. It’s a great matchup with an outstanding school whose staff has done a super job, and I look forward to it.”
How the Vols got there is a point of controversy. It appeared that they were heading to the Music City Bowl with Kentucky on the way to Jacksonville. But following discussions with the SEC, the Vols got the Florida game with Kentucky pushed to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte and Mississippi State in Nashville.
As Fulmer said, Tennessee is no stranger to the Gator Bowl. The Vols have played in this game six times before, holding a 4-2 mark in those appearances. In their last visit back in January 2015, the Vols torched Iowa 45-28 in a game that wasn’t nearly that close. The game is perhaps best remembered for the tens of thousands of Vols fans that packed the place, turning it into a de facto home game. You can expect more of the same this time around.
Indiana is coming off a very good (by Indiana standards) season, finishing 8-4. But that record is somewhat deceptive. The Hoosiers went 0-3 against ranked opponents. They also slumped at the end of the regular season with losses to Penn State and Michigan. In their final game they outlasted a less than mediocre Purdue team in overtime of the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game.
With a victory over Tennessee, Indiana would have a nine-win season for only the third time in the history of their program.
The Hoosiers are a pass first team, with redshirt junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey at the helm of that offense. He threw for 2,227 yards and 13 touchdowns in ten games this season. Junior wide receive Whop Philyor is Ramsey’s go to guy in the passing game. So far Philyor has 1,001 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season.
If there is a place the Vols might try to exploit, it is with the Hoosiers secondary. Their defensive backs only collected three interceptions all year.
Win or lose, this has been a season of improvement for Tennessee. It is well past time that the Vols make bowl game appearances a regular part of their winter schedule. Maybe this will be the start of making that a reality.