The scoreboard read 22-9 in favor of Indiana with 6:50 left in the fourth quarter. The Vols took over at their own 29 yard-line without recording a touchdown all evening. Then, everything seemed to change. UT became the first FBS opponent all season to overcome a thirteen point deficit in such a small amount of time. The first in 472 attempts.
Struggling UT QB, Jarrett Guarantano, used a couple of check downs to Eric Gray to boost the Vols to midfield quickly. He then found Jauan Jennings on a back shoulder throw to take Tennessee right outside of the red zone. Following a couple penalties and runs from Eric Gray, Quavaris Crouch was able to punch it in from the one to bring UT within one score with 4:23 left on the clock.
The play of the game came on an unexpected onside kick directly after Crouch’s touchdown. Tennessee’s kick off specialist, Paxton Brooks, tipped the ball off the tee to an awaiting Eric Gray ten yards down the field to give Tennessee possession with 4:20 left in the ballgame at midfield.
Guarantano found Josh Palmer on the first play after the onside kick for a huge gain, made even more profitable by a 15 yard facemask penalty used to tackle Palmer. After an incompletion, UT’s MVP Eric Gray burst through the Hoosier defense for a 16 yard touchdown to push Tennessee out front 23-22. The Vols scored 14 points in under 30 seconds to shock everyone in Jacksonville, Florida with 3:52 left on the clock.
Indiana went deep on the first play to put themselves in borderline field goal range immediately. Hoosier QB, Peyton Ramsey, took a sack the next play to take them out of range, then made an astounding backyard football play to bring the red & white right back in on third down. IU’s kicker, Logan Justus, proceeded to miss a 52 yard field goal that would ultimately end the Hoosier’s hopes of defeating a SEC opponent.
The game was one of the ugliest Tennessee has played all year. With, once again, quarterback play being the biggest topic of conversation following the win. Guarantano finished the game 18/31 for 221 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. He stepped up later on to lead the two touchdown drives, but UT never should have been in that situation to begin with. Stagnant offense has plagued Tennessee all year, and with an offensive coordinator making over a million dollars a year, that’s inexcusable.
The defense anchored the team, as usual, only allowing 303 total yards of offense on the day while also forcing an interception. The secondary is finally getting to a point of consistency, and the linebacker core has been stellar all season. The defensive line had success getting pressure with four all evening rounding out a solid unit. Tennessee should be a stout defense heading into the 2020 campaign spearheaded by their head coach’s mentality.
An 8-5 season was almost certainly out of the picture after week one & two losses to Georgia State & BYU, but this team showed great poise and determination by bouncing back to salvage this season. Jeremy Pruitt is laying a foundation of grit and hard work in Knoxville and the fan base seems to be responding. The stadium was 80% orange and white on Thursday evening. He’s also doing a great job of restocking the cupboard with huge additions on the recruiting trail with the 21st ranked class nationally.
Relying on history, no one really knows how good UT will be next season. The past shows us the year before really has no correlation to what Tennessee will bring to the table the next September. But, with that being said, Pruitt is as pure of a football coach that the program has had since Phillip Fulmer. The team has goals to return to prominence. That journey continues in eight months.