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Tennessee comes back to beat Indiana in wild Gator Bowl

Unreal football game.

NCAA Football: Gator Bowl-Indiana vs Tennessee Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee and Indiana met on Thursday night in Jacksonville in the Gator Bowl — and things got wild. But it took us a minute to get going.

Here’s how things unfolded.

Missed opportunities highlight Tennessee’s first half

Tennessee had a chance to get out to an early lead after a quick pick by Shawn Shamburger. Jarrett Guarantano wasted no time after the takeaway, uncorking a deep shot to Ramel Keyton, who made a great catch to get down to the Indiana five.

Jim Chaney opted to dial up four straight passes from there, none of which found the endzone. Guarantano overthrew two open receivers in the corner of the endzone as the Vols turned the ball over on downs.

But the early advantage was clear at the line of scrimmage and on the perimeter.

Tennessee forced a three and out to get the ball back quickly. Keyton converted a key third down over the middle, then Eric Gray busted up the middle to enter Hoosier territory. Guarantano converted another third down pass to Marquez Callaway to get inside of the redzone.

Indiana tightened things up from there, stopping Gray and Guarantano forcing a field goal attempt. Brent Cimaglia scored the first points of the game, putting Tennessee up 3-0.

On the other side of the ball, Jeremy Pruitt and Derrick Ansley had Peyton Ramsey running for his life. The Hoosiers have had a lot of success throwing the football in 2019, but the Tennessee defense was suffocating early on, dialing up blitzes from all over the field.

Tennessee went back to work on the ground, this time with Ty Chandler. Chaney mixed in some RPOs and screens to keep the chains moving as the second quarter clock kept ticking away. The Vols entered the redzone again, and the progress again slowed.

Guarantano missed on two shots to the endzone, nearly throwing a pick on third and long. Cimaglia was called on again, once again hitting to make it a 6-0 game.

That would make six points on three redzone trips for Tennessee. The good news was that Indiana simply could not protect Peyton Ramsey. It was a bloodbath in the first half at the line of scrimmage as Ramsey was met with pressure on every snap.

One big mistake before halftime

Guarantano’s dreadful half of football got worse before the break. Indiana timed up a blitz right up the middle. Instead of just eating the ball, Guarantano gave it a half release — right into an Indiana defender’s arms.

Ramsey took advantage, scrambling into field goal range and beyond. The drive ended inside of the ten as Indiana ran out of time. The Hoosiers made it a 6-3 game as time expired in the first half.

So in a half where Tennessee dominated, the Vols entered the break with just a three point lead. The Vols gained 202 total yards against just 69 from the Hoosiers — half of which came from Ramsey scrambling at the end of the half.

Disaster strikes

Indiana had a little momentum rolling before halftime, and they brought that into the third quarter. Ramsey again hurt Tennessee with his legs, busting through the middle on third and five. A screen to Peyton Hendershot had the Hoosiers in business at the Tennessee 25.

And it was Ramsey finishing off the drive in the endzone to score the game’s first touchdown. Almost unbelievably, Tennessee trailed 10-6 with 9:29 to play in the third quarter.

Ty Chandler made things easier on the following kickoff. His productive night continued with a return that crossed the 50, setting Tennessee up with great field position to start.

But Guarantano threw a pick six two plays later. Suddenly it was a 16-6 lead for Indiana — and it felt like Jeremy Pruitt needed to make a change.

That’s exactly what he did. Brian Maurer entered the game for Guarantano with Tennessee needing a spark. Maurer converted on third and ten to Josh Palmer, then Eric Gray ripped off another 15 yards on the ground. Tennessee crossed midfield utilizing the run game, but back to back near turnovers from Maurer stalled the drive.

Tennessee did add another field goal though, bringing us back to a one score game at 16-9.

Indiana had some offensive rhythm going though. Ramsey completed his two longest passes of the game back to back to quickly move back into Tennessee territory. But a big second down sack ended all progress. However, Logan Justus drilled a 49 yard field goal to answer, taking us back to a two score contest.

Pruitt put Guarantano back in the game for the next drive, which ended in a three and out. The Hoosiers capitalized on a short punt to add three more, making it a 22-9 game.

If Tennessee had anything left, it was about time to show it. Another drive with Guarantano ended up going three and out. He missed on a deep shot long, then checked down to a covered up Tim Jordan on 3rd and 8. Paxton Brooks punted another one away, with this one feeling over.

Tennessee finds new life

The Tennessee defense finally forced a quick three and out, keeping the Vols breathing for the time being. Guarantano completed two check downs to Eric Gray, who got across midfield with under seven minutes to play. Jauan Jennings made his first catch of the day after that, moving Tennessee to the 25.

Tennessee got inside of the five and turned back to the run game. Quavaris Crouch finally pushed the ball over the goalline, giving the Vols the touchdown they had to have.

With 4:41 remaining, Tennessee had all three timeouts, down 22-16 — and Jeremy Pruitt dialed up the onside kick. Eric Gray recovered, giving the Vols new life at midfield.

Guarantano delivered a strike to Josh Palmer, then Gray finished the job he started himself. Gray scored from 15 yards out, and Cimaglia gave Tennessee the lead once again.

Just like that, it was a 23-22 Tennessee lead.

But Indiana immediately responded as Ramsey found Ty Fryfogle for a big chunk. That gain brought the Hoosiers inside of the Tennessee 40. Pruitt and Ansley dialed up the pressure from there, sacking Ramsey to set up 3rd and 19. Ramsey scrambled, setting up Justus with a 52 yard attempt for the lead.

Justus was just wide. No good.

Tennessee got the ball back with a little over two minutes to play, and Indiana had just one timeout. The Vols ran three plays, but came about a half yard short of getting a first down.

Jeremy Pruitt opted to go for it on 4th and 1, but a snap infraction cost Tennessee five yards and about 20 seconds. Tennessee punted from there, giving Indiana the ball at their own 20 with 55 seconds left.

Ramsey went right to work, finding Hendershot for 24 yards. Nick Westbrook found 14 more yards on the next play. Tennessee got pressure on the next two snaps, stopping Indiana’s progress down the field.

On 3rd and 10, Ramsey threw it away. 4th and 10 with the Gator Bowl on the line was up next.

His pass fell short.

Tennessee came back, then held on for dear life to win the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Stay tuned for more coverage.