Tennessee football: 5 things I want to see in the Gator Bowl
Tennessee’s 2019 season was heading for disaster when the football gods finally started smiling on the Big Orange. The Vols went from potentially losing 9 games to a 7-5 record and a Gator Bowl berth. Their 5-3 mark in conference play is perhaps the best indicator of their position in the SEC. They aren’t among the elites but probably should be thought of as a team in top half of the conference.
The 2019 season ends Jan. 2 and the 2020 season basically starts the moment the clock strikes zero, so there are a few things I’d like to see from the Vols … since we won’t get to see them for another 8 months (sheds lonely teardrop).
1. Another big Eric Gray game
Tennessee’s true freshman running back got 17 carries in Week 2 against BYU but no more than 9 touches in any other contest through game 11. Then came the season finale against Vanderbilt. The Commodores’ run defense was not good, and the Vols took advantage with the 3-time Mr. Football winner in Tennessee. Gray carried 25 times for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a 94-yard sprint to the end zone.
Ty Chandler led the Vols in rushing this season but didn’t play against the Commodores due to a knee injury. That opened the door for Gray. Chandler is healthy, as is fellow junior Tim Jordan. The odds are that they keep the running back by committee theme going with all 3 of those guys. But Gray has proven he can carry the load himself, and I’d like to see Tennessee give him the opportunity to take over in the backfield.
Tennessee sports betting officially launched on November 1, 2020. Tennessee was the first SEC state to legalize sports betting.
2. Jauan Jennings’s final 30
Thanks to his suspension for the first half of the Gator Bowl, Tennessee redshirt senior Jauan Jennings will only play in the 2nd half against Indiana. Vols fans love Jennings unconditionally, and will savor the 3rd and 4th quarters with him in orange and white, no matter the way the game itself is going.
Even with limited time on the field, Jennings still has a chance to climb in the record books. He is only 6 catches from cracking the top 5 all-time at Tennessee. Jennings is also 50 yards shy of the 7th spot in career receiving yardage. I’m expecting him to reach both marks.
3.Vols continue B1G dominance
Tennessee has faced a Big Ten opponent in their past 3 bowl games, and the results have been very positive. The Vols beat Iowa 45-28 in the 2014 Gator Bowl. They pounded Northwestern 45-6 in the 2015 Outback Bowl. And they beat Nebraska 38-24 in the 2016 Music City Bowl.
The 2019 Gator Bowl features 2 teams in the middle of the pack in their respective conferences. It’s a chance for Tennessee to continue its recent run of success against another Power 5 conference.
4. Another Big Orange Invasion
When the Vols played in this game 4 years ago, it was the artist formerly known as the TaxSlayer Bowl. Iowa fans were outnumbered considerably in Jacksonville. Taking a line from the late, great John Ward, EverBank Field (now TIAA Bank Field) was “clad in Big Orange.”
Will representation in the crowd be as one sided this time around? Tennessee easily sold out its 8,000 ticket allotment, as did Indiana. This will be the Hoosiers first Florida bowl game appearance, so there is excitement in the Midwest. It’ll be interesting to see which fans frequent the online ticket websites the most. Based purely on geography, Tennessee should have the edge. Based on history … yeah, Tennessee should also have the edge. Vols fans used to budget for bowl trips every year. They hope this year starts a new streak in that regard.
5. Defensive emphasis
During Tennessee’s 5-game winning streak to end the regular season, the defense has been a key part of the resurgence. The Vols haven’t allowed more than 21 points in any of those victories.
Indiana can score, but I’d expect to see another solid defensive performance from Tennessee. I’d like to see Darrell Taylor pick up a couple of sacks with Bryce Thompson adding a pick-6.