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Tennessee throttles Northwestern in Outback Bowl

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The temperature was in the mid-20s on the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Illinois, as the Wildcats played in the Outback Bowl on Friday. And although it was 82 in Tampa, the Tennessee Volunteers gave the Wildcats a chilly reception as they rolled to a 45-6 victory at Raymond James Stadium.

The host committee was cordial and accommodating to the Wildcats and their fans, but the Volunteers were a different story. Tennessee dominated both sides of the ball and looked much more like a top 10 team than their final College Football Playoff ranking of 23. The Vols were unranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

Tennessee held Northwestern to 261 yards of total offense and had a possession time advantage of 34 minutes to 26 minutes. The Wildcats also hurt themselves with four interceptions.

Despite nursing an injury, Vols’ running back Jalen Hurd earned Most Valuable Player honors with 130 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw for 166 yards and rushed for 48 more and two touchdowns.

Tennessee capped a late season rush after starting the season 2-3. They were a different team than they were in early October.

“This football team defines resolve,” Tennessee Coach Butch Jones said. “There was a lot of individuals that wanted to bury us, wanted to look for everything out there in this team, just kept saying it. Actually, the adversity brought us closer and closer together.”

The Northwestern contingent had to be disappointed in their team’s performance. Their only score was a 5-yard run by Justin Jackson with 5:07 remaining in the first half. That made the score 10-6, but it was all Tennessee after that.

The Tampa Chamber of Commerce was certainly thrilled with the thousands of Volunteer fans (and a few from Illinois) who traveled to Tampa. There is something about injecting millions of bucks into the local economy that makes local businesses happy.

Those thousands of Tennessee rooters were pleased to have so many opportunities to sing “Rocky Top” after each score. And the Vols scored in different ways.

Dobbs had two touchdown runs, including a spectacular scramble and sideline tip-toe score from 18 yards out. Alvin Kamara scored from 11 yards out, while Hurd and J. Kelley scored on plunges. Evan Berry took an interception and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown with just 8 seconds remaining in the game.

Florida has been good to Tennessee in bowl games the past two seasons. Last year they routed the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Tax Slayer Bowl in Jacksonville, 45-28.

Winners of six straight games, Tennessee closes the season with a 9-4 record. Northwestern, which entered the bowl with a five-game winning streak, finishes at 10-3.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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