What better way to end this wild ride of a season than a January 1st bowl game? The Tennessee Volunteers are gearing up for their first postseason matchup since the end of the 2016 season, and it just so happens to be against a similarly resurgent team. These Indiana Hoosiers are respectable and carved up a nice 8-4 regular season in the Big 10, about as good comparatively as Tennessee did in the SEC.
The numbers dictate that this should be a good game. Beyond how it plays out on the field, both fanbases are quite appreciative of the opportunity to be in Jacksonville to start the new decade. Hopefully, for both programs sake, the ensuing decade is better than the last.
So which one will begin 2020 with a victory? We give our final staff predictions for the 2019 season below.
Terry: Tennessee 31, Indiana 21
Season Record: 11-1
Tennessee has a chance to finish strong against another opponent that they should be able to handle. While Indiana has had a good season, none of their wins are particularly impressive. Going against a hot Tennessee team that has totally bought into this coaching staff seems like a tough task.
The Volunteers seem like they’ve got a clear advantage defensively with pieces to matchup against Indiana’s passing attack. The key for me is how quickly quarterback Jarrett Guarantano can get going. We’ve seen him run hot and cold over the second half of the season. Without Jauan Jennings in the first half, we could be in for one of those cold starts.
But I think Tennessee figures it out eventually, grabbing control of this one in the third quarter and never looking back.
Austin: Tennessee 45, Indiana 17
Season Record: 10-2
After two years on the couch Tennessee is determined to send this senior class off with a bowl victory. They’re on a mission, and I don’t see Indiana stopping them. That’s no disrespect to Indiana at all. The Hoosiers have some extremely talented players, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. But, I think the match-ups in this game heavily favor the Volunteers.
The Volunteers defense is playing at a high level right now — the best they’ve played since Derek Barnett was coming off the edge. I think they’ll be able to bracket Whop Philyor, Indiana’s most dangerous weapon, and force difficult throw to the outside. Hoosier quarterback Peyton Ramsey won’t have long to find a receiver either. As Clint points out down below, Ramsey has been sacked at an alarming rate, and you have to like either Darrell Taylor or Kivon Bennett coming around the edge on a true freshman left tackle.
Indiana hasn’t beat a single ranked opponent all season. Three of their wins — Maryland, Nebraska, and Purdue — were by seven points or less. Indiana has absolutely earned the right to play in this game. I just see Tennessee as the vastly superior side. Vols win big to get to eight wins on the year.
Evan: Tennessee 35, Indiana 30
I have no idea how this game is going to go, but it should be a fun game.
The Vols should be able to establish the ground game against a porous Indiana run defense, but the key for Tennessee will be Jarrett Guarantano. How will he perform in the biggest game of his career? The defense will also have to keep attention on Whop Philyor, Stevie Scott, and Peyton Henderson - which is easier said than done.
On the other hand, if Indiana can find success through the air on offense and rattle Guarantano, then it’s anyone’s bet as to what will happen in this game .
I’m just too excited that there’s a bowl game that involves Tennessee, therefore I’m going all out. Vols take the cake in a high-scoring affair.
Season Record: 10-2
Noah: Tennessee 33, Indiana 21
Season Record: 9-3
The biggest question around this time of year is how much the month or so off will effect teams in bowl season.
The Vols come into Jacksonville on a five-game win streak and the Gator Bowl against Indiana will serve as an opportunity to see how this Tennessee coaching staff can make adjustments with so much time off.
The Hoosiers have the ability to hit Tennessee in the mouth a few times, especially on offense, but the Vols will put it away in the fourth quarter with some big defensive stops.
Clint: Tennessee 28, Indiana 21
Season Record: 7-5
Admittedly, I get similar vibes between this game and the 2016 Outback Bowl, where Tennessee shellacked the No. 12 Northwestern Wildcats by a 45-6 margin. Not so much in how good the teams actually are, but the disparity in talent between them which could lead to a blowout in Tennessee’s favor.
In reality, the advanced stats actually favor Indiana. The Hoosiers have a good offense that was led by two quarterbacks who exceeded expectations. The starter for this game will be Peyton Ramsey, who was initially the backup to Michael Penix Jr. Ramsey is a lot more stationary than Penix, so the Hoosiers are rolling in with a more one dimensional offense than what they had to begin the season. Keep an eye on the pass rush here, as Ramsey has been sacked 21 times. They also lost their starting left tackle and are forced to start a true freshman.
Defensively, head coach Tom Allen has shown a lot of prowess getting the Hoosiers to a top-50 defense and keeping them there. However, I think Tennessee can hit them with explosive plays through the air. The Hoosiers do a decent job bottling up the run, and Tennessee hasn’t had the most consistency on the ground throughout 2019, so deep passing will be the key. Notable stat here is that Indiana is 120th in Explosive Drive Rate.
I’ll play it safe and predict that it stays close as Indiana hones in on forcing Jarrett Guarantano to beat them through the air, and Guarantano starts out rusty. On the flipside, I don’t expect Tennessee’s defense to have much trouble stopping Indiana.
But as mentioned in the opening...this could turn to a blowout quickly if Guarantano actually starts hot and Tennessee gets up early.
Nick: Tennessee 27, Indiana 17
Season Record: 3-2
Late in the season, I kept expecting the Vols to fudge up their streak of wins with self-imposed penalties or mistakes, but that kept not happening.
I imagine this game comes down to whether or not Tennessee can make some plays through the air in the passing game. The Vols are at their best when Jarrett Guarantano is sharp and putting pressure on the defense down the field. The Vols are without Jauan Jennings for the first half of the game, but the WR corps has other options with Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer.
Can Tennessee establish any sort of ground attack? Is it Ty Chandler or Eric Gray who gets the bulk of the carries, and can the offensive line create holes against a defense allowing about 140 yards rushing per game?
Tennessee’s defense has played really well in the second-half of the season, and I expect seniors Nigel Warrior and Daniel Bituli to be sharp, focused and intense.
I really have no idea how this game will go, but I’m picking the Vols anyway.