Gator Bowl, Tennessee vs. Indiana: Scouting the Hoosiers
After a 3-year absence, Tennessee is heading back to the postseason. The scuttlebutt for most the weekend put them in Nashville for the Music City Bowl. But after lots of discussions in SEC smoke-filled rooms (well ventilated of course), the Volunteers were picked to play in the Gator Bowl, Jan. 2 in Jacksonville.
Their opponent? 8-4 Indiana. It’s a rematch of the Peach Bowl from Jan. 2, 1988, which the Vols won 27-22. That game was so long ago the site of the game (Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta) no longer exists.
Here are 5 things you need to know about the Vols’ opponent, Indiana.
How they got here
This isn’t your typical Indiana football team.
The Hoosiers started 2-1 then won 5 of their next 6, including a 4-game winning streak. Yes the schedule got easier, but they won games in blowout fashion (Rutgers, natch) and close victories on the road at Maryland and Nebraska.
At 8-4, this was the Hoosiers’ best regular season in 26 years, and the school recently rewarded head coach Tom Allen with a new 7-year contract that will pay him an average of $3.9 million per season.
Indiana does not have a win over a ranked opponent this season (0-3) but if the Hoosiers can beat the Vols, they’ll have 9 wins for only the 3rd time in program history.
One of the Hoosiers’ best players lines up their most important position. Redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey started every game in 2018 and missed only 2 so far this year.
Ramsey has thrown for 2,227 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, completing nearly 70% of his passes. He also shows some mobility, ranking 3rd on the team in rushing with 198 yards. Ramsey’s career game came at State College, where he threw for 371 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Penn State. He also rushed for 2 scores in that near upset.
Tennessee fans typically like quarterbacks named Peyton. Not sure that’ll be the case this time around.
Indiana can score some points. They are averaging 32.6 points per game this season.
This is a team that will throw the football a majority of the time. The Hoosiers have 4 players with more than 500 yards receiving this season. They are led by junior Whop Philyor, who caught 69 passes for 1,001 yards and 5 scores. It was a breakout season for Philyor, who caught 46 more passes in 2019 than he did a year ago. He’s also active as a punt returner.
As for the rushing attack, Indiana averages 134 yards per game. Sophomore Steve Scott III was named second-team All Big Ten with 845 rushing yards and 10 scores. He’s also a threat in the passing game with 211 receiving yards.
Indiana allows 24.5 points per game. The Hoosiers shut out Rutgers and gave up only 3 points in each victory over UConn and Northwestern. They also gave up 51 to Ohio State and 41 to Purdue, so it isn’t all cookies and ice cream on that side of the football.
They are led by sophomore linebacker Micah McFadden. He was tops on the Hoosiers with 56 tackles, including 9 for a loss. He also had an interception this season. On the line, 6-3, 294-pound Jerome Johnson is tough to deal with. He had 4 sacks this season, and was 5th on the team in tackles with 37.
Their defensive backs can make plays including senior Khalil Bryant, who had 53 tackles this year. But as a unit they only secured 3 interceptions. This might be an area the Vols look to exploit more than they normally might.
Inexperience. This is a very young Hoosiers team, with a combined 72% of the roster freshmen or sophomores. They slumped at the end of the season, losing at Penn State and getting destroyed at home against Michigan. They had to outlast a less than mediocre Purdue team, winning that rivalry game in overtime.
Like the Vols, most of the players on this Indiana roster were not playing college football back in 2016, the last time the Hoosiers were in a bowl game. This is only the 12th bowl game in program history; IU is 3-8 in those contests.
You have to wonder how the Hoosiers will react to what might be a de facto road game. You can get from Knoxville to Jacksonville in about 7.5 hours, and if the Vols’ visit to the Gator Bowl in January 2015 is any indication, there will be a lot of orange in the stadium. Indiana is first and foremost a basketball school. Their fans will either have to jump on a plane or drive 12+ hours to get to TIAA Bank field. Might be a tall order.