Looking for the school’s first bowl win since 1991, coach Tom Allen’s Indiana Hoosiers (8-4, 5-3 B1G) take on the Tennessee Volunteers (7-5, 5-3 SEC) in the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
Indiana will be participating in their 12th bowl game in program history, which includes now three bowls in the last five years. The other two bowl games in this decade, unfortunately, came as losses for the Hoosiers: 2015’s loss to Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl and 2016’s loss to Utah in the Foster Farm’s Bowl.
The Tennessee Volunteers (7-5, 5-3) finished third in the SEC East Division behind Georgia and Florida. They visit Jacksonville with a similar resume as the Hoosiers in the sense that they won the 50-50 games in their conference, but they did not have any major upset wins against better teams. Ultimately, their success 7-5 season did exceed preseason expectations of finishing in the bottom half of the conference.
Tennessee will be competing in their 52nd bowl game. Like Indiana’s last post-season appearance, their last bowl dates back to 2016. The Volunteers defeated Nebraska in the 2016 Music City Bowl by a final score of 38-24. They also played in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville in 2015, beating Iowa, 45-28.
Volunteer head coach Jeremy Pruitt is currently in his second year as the head man at Knoxville. He has accumulated a career record of 12-12 as the UT head coach after leaving his station as the Alabama defensive coordinator. The defensive-minded coach played as a defensive back for Alabama back in the 1990s.
How to Watch: Indiana Hoosiers versus Tennessee Volunteers
|What||Gator Bowl: Indiana Hoosiers versus Tennessee Volunteers|
|When||7 p.m. ET / Thursday, January 2, 2020|
|Where||TIAA Bank Field – Jacksonville, Fla.|
|Tickets||Find the Lowest Ticket Prices on SeatGeek|
|Listen||IU Radio Network|
|Spread||Tennessee -3 / Over-Under 55|
|Agenda||See our TaxSlayer Gator Bowl announcement for more info.|
Meet the Volunteers
Key Offensive Players
Jarrett Guarantano (pronounced gare-en-TAN-o) starts at quarterback for the Volunteers. A redshirt junior like Indiana’s Peyton Ramsey, Guarantano finished the regular season completing 59.3% of his passes, (134-for-226), for 1,937 yards, 16 TD, and 6 INT.
Guarantano frequently struggles with the location of his passes. In a recent PFF article that ranked all 80 bowl quarterbacks by NFL potential, they said the following about the Tennessee QB, who ranked 54th: “Guarantano’s accuracy at this point is a non-starter. He has the eighth-lowest rate of perfectly placed passes past the line of scrimmage of any qualifying QB.” Ramsey finished 36th in the same ranking.
Senior Jauan Jennings leads Tennessee’s receiving corps. However, Jennings is suspended for the first half of the Gator Bowl after an incident during the Volunteers’ finale against Vanderbilt. Jennings recorded 57 receptions this year for 942 yards and 8 TD. Jennings caught a Hail Mary touchdown at Georgia in 2016 and was the only receiver to top 100 yards against Alabama in 2018 until Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Clemson’s Justyn Ross did so in the College Football Playoff.
Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer round out the Tennessee wide receiver group and will play a larger role before halftime. The speedster Callaway led the team in receptions and receiving yards in 2018. Palmer, a big play threat, led the SEC in yards per reception (21.0) in 2018. Palmer had his best game of the season in the Vols’ 24-20 win at Missouri, in which he caught six passes for 124 yards. Freshman Ramel Keyton might get some additional looks in the first half as well.
Senior tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson plays a complementary role in the Tennessee offense. Wood-Anderson did catch a touchdown in the Vols’ finale against Vanderbilt on November 30.
The Volunteers’ running game is a work in progress. They enter the Gator Bowl ranked in the 80s (out of 130) in rushing attempts and yards per game. The committee of Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Eric Gray will try to find success on the ground against IU’s front seven. Regardless of who starts, he will be running behind a stout offensive line including 2020 top-60 NFL Draft prospect Trey Smith and 5-star freshman offensive tackles Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright. Most programs would have issues with starting two 18-year olds at tackle. Yet, Morris’ and Wright’s improvement has keyed the Volunteers’ season-ending 5-game winning streak.
Key Defensive Players
Without question, the Volunteers are stronger on the defensive side of the football. Pruitt served as defensive coordinator at Florida State, Georgia, and Alabama before getting the job as Tennessee’s head coach. According to the SP+ ratings, the Volunteers’ defense concluded the season as the 19th-ranked unit in the country, ahead of teams like LSU and Notre Dame. Tennessee has not allowed more than 21 points in five straight games and in six of the last seven.
IU OC Kalen DeBoer, who will call plays for the Hoosiers in the Gator Bowl before moving on to coach Fresno State, will have to game plan for multiple players on all three levels of the opposing defense. First-year defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley calls the shots in Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme. Up front, Aubrey Solomon and Greg Emerson will test Indiana’s interior offensive line.
A Michigan transfer, the 6’5″, 300 lb. Solomon recorded 2 sacks and will have his name called in the NFL Draft. Emerson, a redshirt freshman, had six tackles and a sack against Alabama on October 19. IU has relied on the run game to set up deep pass plays all season; Stevie Scott (questionable), Sampson James, and others will have to work hard to find running room against a defense that has conceded only two carries of 30+ yards all season.
Daniel Bituli, Henry To’o To’o, and Darrel Taylor pace the linebacker group for Tennessee. Bituli, a senior captain named to the 2019 All-SEC 2nd team, has recorded 260 career tackles and even chipped in 3 sacks and a special teams TD this year. To’o To’o was named to the 2019 SEC All-Freshman team as well as the 247Sports Freshman All-American team (along with IU’s Tiawan Mullen). Taylor is the primary pass-rusher on Tennessee. He recorded seven sacks, including two in a win over South Carolina.
In the secondary, the player to watch is safety Nigel Warrior. He has four INTs on the year, with one coming against Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa in the two team’s Oct. 19 matchup. Overall, this can be characterized as a “bend but don’t break” defense. On the year, Tennessee, has given up only seven pass plays of over 30 yards – fewest in the nation. This matchup against the Vols will be a considerable test for WRs Whop Philyor, Nick Westbrook, and Ty Fryfogle. Senior Donavan Hale will miss the game after getting surgery for a lower-body ailment.
Tennessee’s special teams unit was rated 58th in ESPN’s SP+ rankings. Kicker Brent Cimaglia was named to the 2019 All-SEC 2nd team after his 20-for-24 performance this season. Callaway is also a dangerous threat in the return game. On Indiana’s side, Logan Justus and Haydon Whitehead will have to continue their strong seasons in the kicking and punting game for IU to win. Hoosier kickoff specialist Nate Snyder has shown more than enough ability to kick it out of the end zone for touchbacks. Doing so in the Gator Bowl will help keep the ball out of Callaway’s hands.
Gator Bowl: What to Watch for against Tennessee
1. How well can the Hoosiers start?
Indiana has scored a first possession touchdown in three straight and has scored in some fashion in six in a row. With nerves and potentially inclement weather in an outdoor environment, IU’s ability to move down the field on the initial drive will set the tone for the entire Gator Bowl.
2. Indiana’s defense against Jarrett Guarantano
Overall, Tennessee’s QB Jarrett Guarantano has had a number of inaccuracy issues this season. IU’s defense, led by coordinator Kane Wommack, has had rough patches against Purdue, Penn State, and Michigan in the stretch run of the regular season.
Specifically, getting pressure on the quarterback has been a sore spot for IU. The group of defensive linemen, specifically James Head, Jerome Johnson, and Demarcus Elliott, will have to get in Guarantano’s face on January 2. It won’t be easy; Tennessee’s OL has 5-star freshmen Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright starting at tackle, with early-round NFL prospect Trey Smith lining up at guard.
3. Kalen DeBoer’s Swan Song
In what will be OC Kalen DeBoer’s final game as play-caller, will the Hoosiers open up the playbook, even mixing in a trick play or two? The craziest one we’ve seen this season from IU was a double pass leading to a Peyton Hendershot TD against Ohio State in week 3.
Even if IU doesn’t dig deep into the bag of tricks, DeBoer’s ability to scheme his receivers open has keyed IU’s significant offensive improvement this season. Keep an eye out for pre-snap motion, which helps Ramsey get an idea of the type of defense the Vols are playing. If the Hoosiers can neutralize the Vols’ defensive line and pass rush, IU should be able to put up their 10th 30-point performance of the season.
4. Can Indiana prevent a shootout?
While Tennessee’s defense is ranked among the top 25 defenses in the country according to ESPN’s SP+ rankings, their offense is currently ranked at 78th. Indiana’s defense has to keep the Volunteer offense within manageable reach. If the Volunteers’ jets turn on behind quarterback Guarantano or behind the UT running back committee, that would force Indiana to fight fire with fire.
Can Indiana compete in that type of game? They have proven that they can this season. Just take the most recent display on the field, their performance against Purdue in the Bucket Game.
The Indiana defense does not need to be spectacular. That’s a horn we have been tooting all season long. The Hoosiers simply do not expect nor do they rely on the defense to score, or even have multiple takeaways. Instead, Tom Allen and Kane Wommack just have to keep Tennessee as… well, the 78th ranked offense in the nation.
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Predictions
41-38 Indiana. New Year’s celebrations might be over, but the fireworks won’t stop at least for another day. Kalen DeBoer is going to go out with a “bang” as he coaches one final game for the Hoosiers before leaving west. Expect this bowl game to be a culmination of all of the fundamentals that he has built up all season.”Rob Jiang
27-23 Indiana. With over a month to prepare, defensive-minded head coaches Tom Allen and Jeremy Pruitt will keep the points at a premium in Jacksonville. Quarterback play will ultimately make the difference in this one, as Peyton Ramsey makes a play or two more than Jarrett Guarantano to lead the Hoosiers to the program’s first bowl win since 1991.”Nithin Krishnan
31-28 Indiana. This is one of the most comparable teams that the Hoosiers will face all season rankings-wise. Tennessee has looked great down the stretch this season winning its last five, but fortunately for the Hoosiers both teams will get a “reset” by having over a month off before game day. Peyton vs. Guarantano will be the match up of the game that will determine the victor, but RBs are the x-factor that will allow the QBs to open the field up for easy plays. Tom Allen and Kalen DeBoer will end their year together with a close victory that gets decided on the last possession in a tough match in Florida.”Dakota Thompson
37-24 Indiana. Get your ears prepared for the obnoxious cloud of sound waves that is Rocky Top. Hoosiers should play hard especially on offense for Kalen DeBoer’s last game. A lot of the Hoosiers are playing in their home state against Tennessee, a team they grew up hating. I think IU plays their best game of the year and should lay a great foundation for the team to bounce off of into spring workouts and into next season. Look for Peyton Ramsey, Whop, and Taiwan Mullen to have big games for the Hoosiers.Matt Lukens
34-24 Indiana. The Hoosiers finish off their impressive season with a bowl victory over the Volunteers. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey gets the job done through the air with his receiving core. Logan Justus bounces back from his performance against Purdue and knocks in a couple of field goals. Kane Wommack’s defense gets key stops from Tiawan Mullen and Reakwon Jones sealing the game late for Indiana. With the victory, Tom Allen’s squad can celebrate as they are the first Hoosier team since 1991 to win a bowl game.”Andrew Rude