Indiana football finished their 2019 campaign with a disappointing defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers in the 75th edition of the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Here are our five key takeaways from the game.
A brutal last seven minutes for IU football
With 6:58 left in the fourth quarter Indiana held a 22-9 lead over Tennessee.
From that point on, the game turned Orange. And IU fans had to hear too many renditions of “Rocky Top.”
Here are the unsavory details.
Starting at their own 18-yard line, the Volunteers completed three consecutive 10+ yard passes going 56 yards in 31 seconds.
Driving to Indiana’s 13-yard line, Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano threw two incomplete passes after starting the drive 5-for-5.
On a third-and-ten, Guarantano targeted but missed receiver Juan Jennings up the middle. However, Indiana defensive back Jamar Johnson was called for defensive holding, giving Tennessee a 1st and goal.
Three plays later freshman linebacker Quavaris Crouch was brought in to serve as a fullback, punching the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown, Tennessee’s first of the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Volunteers lined up as if they were going to kick the ball deep.
Instead Tennessee placekicker Paxton Brooks kicked an onside kick with his teammate Eric Gray recovering the ball right as it passed the ten-yard mark.
Three plays later, Gray ran 16 yards up the middle for a touchdown, the Volunteers’ second TD in 30 seconds, giving Tennessee the sudden and shocking 23-22 lead with 3:51 remaining.
With all the momentum with Tennessee, Indiana still looked to respond.
Starting from their own 25-yard line, Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey hit teammate Ty Fryfogle with a 39-yard bomb, quickly bringing the ball to Tennessee’s 36-yard line.
Two players later, Ramsey was sacked for a 9-yard loss.
On a third-and-nineteen, Ramsey was forced to scramble out of the pocket, but before being taken down, he made a nifty backward-lateral pitch to running back Sampson James, giving Indiana a nine-yard gain.
With a fourth-and-eight from the Tennessee 34-yard line, Indiana head coach Tom Allen sent out the kicking team so Indiana kicker Logan Justus could attempt a 52-yard field goal.
After Tennessee attempted to ice the kicker, and the officials caused Justus to repeat his routine, his attempt would have the distance but ultimately hooked wide right.
With 2:08 remaining, the Volunteers looked to run out the clock.
On a third-and-six from the Tennessee 38-yard line, wide receiver Jauan Jennings took the ball from under center, running just enough for what was ruled a first down.
However, the officials reviewed the spot, overturning the initial placement, and placing the ball a yard short.
Tennessee lined up to potentially convert the fourth down, but as the teams lined up, Tennessee center Riley Locklear moved the ball at the line, being called for an illegal snap infraction, pushing the Volunteers back five yards and forcing them to punt.
With 0:55 left and no timeouts, Indiana was given one last chance to make a comeback.
Ramsey, again trying to step up when IU needed him to, converted two big passes in a row to tight end Peyton Hendershot and wide receiver Nick Westbrook
With 0:36 left, the Hoosiers quickly had a first-and-ten from the Tennessee 45-yard line.
Needing to push the ball a little further to bring the Hoosiers within field goal range, IU failed to convert another pass as Ramsey threw four straight incompletions, turning the ball over on downs and giving Tennessee the win.
Tom Allen takeaways tally
Indiana’s defense kept the Hoosiers in the game early, and then allowed IU to seemingly start to pull away.
As has been emphasized all season, “Tom Allen Takeaways” came up big as the Indiana defense forced two interceptions.
The first came late in the first half and quickly changed the direction of the game.
Tennessee faced a third-and-two at their own 45-yard line with 2:24 left in the second quarter.
Indiana linebacker Cam Jones timed Tennessee’s snap count perfectly, getting a great jump and breaking through the Volunteer offensive line. Jones tipped the Guarantano pass, with the ball falling in the hands of fellow linebacker Micah McFadden who was tackled down at Tennessee’s 42-yard line.
The interception gave Indiana’s offense outstanding field position, creating a drive that allowed the Hoosiers to get their first score of the game with a field goal as time expired.
It wasn’t much longer till the defense got their second one.
After the Hoosier offense scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, the defense answered with one of their own.
On the second play of Tennessee’s opening drive of the half, Guarantano attempted to hit Jennings for a first down, but Indiana defensive back Jamar Jonson read the play perfectly, stepping in front of the pass and taking the ball 63 yards behind an army of blockers for a pick-six, giving Indiana a 16-6 lead.
Indiana’s Peytons lead the way on offense
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey and tight end Peyton Hendershot were the two biggest playmakers for the Indiana offense.
After only having 37 passing yards in the first half, including an interception on the first offensive drive of the game, Ramsey came ready to lead the offense after halftime.
Ramsey went 12 of 20 through the air with 190 passing yards in the second half.
Ramsey also finished the game as Indiana’s leading rusher, gaining 54-yards on the ground, including getting the Hoosiers’ sole offensive touchdown on a one-yard sneak.
As impressive as Ramsey was, Hendershot’s resiliency was just as noteworthy.
Hendershot supplied the first three Hoosier catches of the evening and became IU’s single season reception leader for a tight end.
But early in the first quarter after his third catch, Hendershot landed hard on his shoulder after getting tackled, taking him briefly out of the game.
Hendershot was not done however.
After the intermission he secured big 19-yard catch on Indiana’s opening drive of the half. But Hendershot again came up holding the shoulder.
Again looking as though he might be held out for the game, Hendershot was determined to stay on the field..
Hendershot played through his injury for the balance of the game finishing as Indiana’s leading receiver with 67 yards on six catches.
Second-half offensive adjustments pay dividends
Indiana’s offense struggled mightily against a stout Tennessee defense in the first half. Tthe Hoosiers garnered a measly 69 yards at 2.5 per play.
IU was without starting tailback Stevie Scott and starting right guard Simon Stepaniak, helping to hamper a ground game that finished the half with just 32 yards on 13 attempts.
Stepaniak’s absence probably also proved problematic for the pass blocking, as Ramsey was pressured and sacked multiple times.
Even when Ramsey had time to throw, he struggled to find many of his receivers open, finishing with only eight completions at the half and just two to a wide receiver.
Indiana offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, calling his last game for the Hoosiers before he assumes his new position as the head coach at Fresno State, made some adjustments that paid off.
Getting the ball to start the second half, Indiana’s offense finally started clicking, featuring faster-developing plays with more screen passes and underneath routes.
With the passing game opening up, Indiana’s run game did as well, especially for the quarterback.
Ramsey made multiple plays using his legs as he has done so much this season, rushing for 30 yards on the opening half scoring drive.
The Hoosier offense finished with 234 total yards in the second half, with a touchdown, two field goals, and zero turnovers.
Bowl victory drought continues, but perhaps not for long
Coach Allen set three goals for the Hoosier football program when he took over as head coach.
- Win the Big Ten for the first time in 50 years
- Win a bowl game for the first time in 28 years
- Get a winning season for the first time in 10 years
The Hoosiers secured the third goal when they beat Northwestern back in early November.
While winning the Big Ten must wait for the foreseeable future, the Hoosiers had an excellent opportunity to end their bowl game victory drought against Tennessee.
Indiana came into the Gator Bowl having not won a bowl game since the Hoosiers shutout the Baylor Bears in the 1991 Copper Bowl 24-0.
IU has now lost five consecutive bowl games, including three in the past five years by a combined margin of six points.
The Hoosiers looked primed to win on Thursday, holding that thirteen-point lead late in the game. And finishing games is emblematic of the culture change the coaching staff has emphasized over multiple seasons.
So the loss somewhat sours what was otherwise a historic season for Indiana football, finishing with their first eight-win season since 1993, including winning the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in three seasons. But there is plenty to build on here.
The Hoosiers will have to wait until next season to attempt to win a bowl, but with 18 starters and the vast majority of back-ups returning from Thursday’s lineup, there are reasons to believe that IU might finally get over the hump sooner than later.
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