JACKSONVILLE - A fourth quarter onsides kick and two scores in 30 seconds proved fatal to Indiana University, but thrilling for the University of Tennessee football team who came back from a 13-point gap to beat the Hoosiers 23-22 at the Taxslayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville on January 2. Tennessee freshman tailback Eric Gray, who caught the pivotal onsides kick and later scored the go-ahead touchdown, was named Taxslayer MVP.
"First off, what a fantastic ballgame," said Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt. "The players on both teams, the way they competed in the
game, I can't say enough about Indiana, Coach Allen and his staff and what a great job that they did. You know,
and then you look at our guys, it took 60 minutes, but our guys continued to scratch and claw and just kept trying
to find a way. You know, we kind of changed some things during the game a little bit on both sides of the ball, just
trying to find something that was working."
After a ho-hum first half that ended at 6-3 for Tennessee 8-5), Indiana (8-5) struck first with a kickoff return of 63 yards setting up a 12 play scoring drive that ended with a quarterback plunge of one yard from Peyton Ramsey.
Just three plays later, Indiana safety Jamar Johnson intercepted Volunteer quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and carried the steal 63 yards to paydirt for a 16-6 Hoosier lead with 8:26 left in the third.
"You think we're fixing to get a little momentum, and then we throw a pick six," said Pruitt. "But our kids kind of kept on fighting."
Both teams would trade field goals to a 22-9 Indiana lead with 3:44 left in the fourth period.
After a Hoosier punt, Tennesse started at their own 18 with Guarantano finally finding receivers with six straight completions; 11, 23, 22, 8 and 5 yards to put the Vols at the Hoosier 13 with 5:42 to go.
Guarantano went cold from there with three misfires, but a holding penalty kept the drive alive with running back Quavaris Crouch punching in from a yard to put the game at 22-16 with 4:21 left in the game.
A perfectly-played onsides kick from kicker Paxton Brooks, with tailback Eric Gray catching the loose ball in midair just after the 10 yards, put Tennessee back on offense from the Hoosier 46.
"We've probably repped it 500 or 600 times over the last six months," said Pruitt. "Paxton laid down a great kick. Eric -- we got three guys that's going to block the three
returners, and we got two guys getting the ball. Eric timed it right, and it was a great kick."
Guarantano hit wide out Josh Palmer for 23 yards and another penalty; a 15 yard facemask, put the Vols at the Hoosier 16. Tailback Eric Gray would sprint into the end zone to put Tennessee up 23-22 with a PAT kick from Brent Cimaglia.
Indiana missed a 52 yard field goal attempt at 2:12 to go to end their scoring chances.