Pruitt decisions, Gray plays win Gator Bowl

Marvin Westwestwords

Two-word description of the 75th Gator Bowl: Great game.

Maybe you have heard that second-level bowls are insignificant, just for fun, that it doesn’t really matter whether you win or lose.

It matters.

Tennessee played with fierce determination, endured red zone headaches and two interceptions, overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter and scored a dramatic 23-22 victory over Indiana.

Second-year coach Jeremy Pruitt and first-year tailback Eric Gray provided the winning edge. Pruitt called for a daring onside kick by Paxton Brooks with four minutes and change remaining. Gray made a very smart move by allowing the ball to travel the required 10 yards (precisely) before he recovered.

After that, Gray scored the critical touchdown.

After that, Pruitt switched from a prevent defense to pressure on the quarterback in the closing seconds. It was just enough to snuff out the Hoosiers’ bid for a miracle comeback of their own.

The victory was very meaningful to all Volunteers and the thousands of fans who turned Jacksonville the proper shade of orange.

The Tennessee winning streak is up to six. Seniors are convinced they finally got the brick-by-brick thing right and built the foundation for future success. Pruitt converted some doubters.

“This team never quit,” said the coach. “The fans never quit. We found a way to win.”

Pruitt said when times were tough, the Vols put on more steam.

Smart quote, Coach. That was one of General Robert R. Neyland’s original maxims.

Tennessee missed three early touchdown opportunities and settled for two field goals. Tennessee led 6-3 at intermission. Tennessee failed to contain scrambling quarterback Peyton Ramsey and Indiana won the third quarter. There was a touchdown drive and a second interception off Jarrett Guarantano that went the wrong way for 63 yards.

Things looked really bad when the Hoosiers added two field goals but the Vols suddenly awakened and fought back. Passes from Guarantano to Gray were the launch. Freshman Quavaris Crouch and the jumbo package produced a touchdown.

The onside kick succeeded because of flawless execution. Guarantano hit a pass. Indiana grabbed a face mask. Gray tied the game. Brent Cimaglia hit the clinching extra point.

Too much time remained – 3:51.

The Hoosiers missed what might have been the winning field goal.

Tennessee missed what would have been a deciding first down to run out the clock.

Ramsey was brilliant against a three-man rush and eight deep defenders. He was not so good when Pruitt switched schemes and rushed the quarterback.

Tennessee should arrange more games against Big 10 teams. The Volunteers win a high percentage. This was their 12th triumph in 16 skirmishes. It was a bit more difficult than some.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is

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