JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Indiana Hoosiers unfortunately could not put an exclamation point at the end of the season by closing with a postseason victory against the Tennessee Volunteers of the SEC in the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. The Hoosiers collapsed in the fourth stanza by leaving two unanswered touchdowns. They lose to the Volunteers by a final score of 23-22.
Indiana and Tennessee finish their seasons with a final record of 8-5.
The Hoosiers attempted to reach their program record in wins for a single season; however, they will be unable to reach a milestone that was last accomplished in 1967 under then Indiana head coach John Pont.
Indiana will instead finished with a respectable eight-win season for the sixth time in program history.
In Bloomington, there is not much postseason hardware for the football program, and Tom Allen will to fight for a trophy in another year. Coach Allen is now 0-2 in bowl games, as he started his career by coaching in the 2016 Foster Farms bowl against Utah after the departure of then-coach Kevin Wilson.
TIAA Bank Field filled with over 60,000 fans covered in orange and crimson. After a week of activities and pep rallies, the stage was set for the 2020 Gator Bowl. Both teams came out of their respective gates with pent-up energy as both teams had not taken the field the entire month of December.
The game started out fast for both sides. After winning the toss and deferring possession of the pigskin to the second half, the Hoosier defense opened with a quick three-and-out. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey threw an interception for the first turnover of the game. Tennessee responded with a deep throw to set up the Volunteers for a potential short trip to the endzone, but instead the Kane Wommack-led defense came up big and forced a turnover on downs.
The Indiana offense did not have any spark in the first quarter. Kalen DeBoer called a handful of decent drives but could never get generate enough momentum to extend past midfield. Mid-range throws were not on target for Ramsey, and it seemed like the pocket collapsed on every offensive play. Ramsey acrobatically escaped death a number of times, which led him to lead the Hoosiers on the ground with 54 yards.
Time and time again, Indiana relied on their defense to hold their own against Tennessee. They came up big when they got into the redzone and inside the 10 yard line. The first quarter could have seen a two possession game in favor of the Volunteers, but the defense kept the Hoosiers in the game against an orange-favored crowd in Jacksonville.
The offensive woes continued for the Hoosier offense as the second quarter got underway. The offense stopped running the ball, and the offensive line would not give Peyton Ramsey much time if he was back to pass anything further than 5 yards out. The defense got into a rut, giving up long and tiring drives as Tennessee would slowly go down the field into the redzone.
Just as it seemed like the Hoosiers were backed into a corner after another offensive drive that resulted in a punt, the defense came up big yet again as Mikah McFadden got an interception off of pressure on Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. The offense got the ball with a short field and the crowd at their back, and drove into the redzone. The Hoosiers got inside the 5 yard-line, but ran out of time and had to kick a field goal.
In a lop-sided first half, the Hoosiers trailed the Volunteers by just a three-point margin at 6-3, despite Tennessee owning 10 more minutes of possession.
As Tennessee fans were coming back from their concession run after halftime, the Hoosier offense quietly put together a 12 play, 69 yard touchdown drive over 5 minutes and 31 seconds. The crowd got back into the game at the end of that drive as Peyton Ramsey’s scramble game took form and scored the first touchdown for either side. The defense had rested for over 40 normal minutes, and it paid off with a 63 yard interception for a touchdown by Jamar Johnson.
A missed extra point from Logan Justus made the game 16-6 as the momentum shifted to Indiana in a matter of minutes. That extra point would come back and haunt the Hoosiers at the very end.
The Hoosiers were missing their primary runningback for the season Stevie Scott, who actually dressed up for the game during warm ups. Just minutes before kick-off, it was announced that he would be unavailable for the matchup this afternoon, likely due to the injury he suffered near the end of the regular season. Sampson James and Ronnie Walker Jr. took over duties, but they could only come up with a combined 27 yards on the ground.
Both teams traded scores as the Indiana offense seemed to find its stride and find it consistently. Logan Justus redeemed himself after the missed extra point by making a 49-yard field goal to extend the lead back to 10, with Indiana up 19-9 going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter progressed but without being drama-free. At first, the game kept seeing more field goals. Logan Justus seemed to get the rust off from the Purdue game by scoring 3 field goals, the latest with 10:27 left to go to put Indiana up by 13 and put the game on the defense.
On a drive starting at the Tennessee 18-yard line, the Guarantano marched down the field in just ten plays to score Tennessee’s first touchdown of the evening. Quavaris Couch snuck into the endzone at the one-yard line.
With the score at 22-16 Indiana and 4:20 left on the clock, that’s when Indiana lost all momentum and control of the game. The Volunteers attempted a on-side kick that caught the Hoosiers off-guard. Tennessee recovered the ball legally after a prolonged review of the replay. The play was made by running back Eric Gray that would go on to score the Volunteers’ second touchdown to take the lead at 23.
Justus got an opportunity to redeem his missed extra point, which marked the difference of the game score. He lined up to kick a 52-yard field goal that ultimately went wide right. He had enough air under the ball, but just not quite on target. Tom Allen and Kalen DeBoer received one last fighting chance to drive down the field, but came up short and turned the ball over on downs with 18 seconds remaining.
The Volunteers will return to Knoxville as the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl champions by a final score of 23-22.
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Featured Photo: IndianaHQ