Hoosiers Seek First Nine-Win Season Since 1967 In TaxSlayer Gator Bowl

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Indiana has a chance to finish a season with nine victories for the first time in 52 years and for only the third time in school history as it wraps up a successful season Thursday night versus Tennessee in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

With the launch of BetAmerica’s online sportsbook Tuesday, bettors in the Hoosier State have four mobile options to peruse for this game in addition to DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetRivers. BetAmerica had launched a retail sportsbook November at Rising Sun ahead of its mobile launch, making Indiana the third state where it is offering online sports betting.

All four sportsbooks have listed Indiana as a 2.5-point underdog at -110 for this game. FanDuel is the only sportsbook with a different over/under, offering 52.5 points at -115 with the over and -105 for the under while the other three have posted 53 at -110

The moneyline also has a narrow range, with Tennessee ranging as a favorite from -129 at DraftKings and BetRivers to -135 at BetAmerica, and Indiana offering a +110 return at both FanDuel and BetAmerica compared to +106 at DraftKings and BetRivers.

Hoosiers seek first bowl win in 28 years

While Indiana (8-4) is making its third bowl appearance in five seasons, it has not won a bowl game since defeating Baylor 24-0 in the 1991 Copper Bowl. The Hoosiers are making their second bowl appearance under coach Tom Allen, also losing 26-24 to Utah in the 2016 Foster Farms Bowl in his first season.

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Allen, though, has the program on the upswing. Indiana reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 1993 and also recorded its first winning record in Big Ten play since that season. The only other times the Hoosiers have won nine games came in 1945 and 1967, and they are 3-8 overall in bowl games.

Indiana has one of the most dynamic offenses in the Big Ten, averaging 32.6 points, 308.7 passing yards, and 443.6 total yards, and that came despite a season-ending shoulder injury to Michael Penix in early November. Peyton Ramsey, who was the starter last year, seamlessly stepped in and enters the game with 2,227 yards and 13 TD passes while completing 69.2% of his throws. This will be the last game for Hoosiers offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, who was named head coach at Fresno State earlier in December.

Both Ramsey and Penix liked throwing to Whop Philyor, who is just the seventh player in school history to surpass 1,000 yards receiving in a season and enters the contest with 69 catches for 1,001 yards despite missing a game due to injury. Sophomore tight end Peyton Hendershot also enjoyed a breakout season with 46 receptions for 555 yards and four touchdowns. Stevie Scott did not have a second straight 1,000-yard rushing season, but still finished with 845 and matched his scoring output from 2018 with 10 TDs.

Indiana, which suffered all four of its losses to AP Top 25 teams in its own division of the Big Ten, had four players with at least 500 receiving yards and six with 20 or more catches.

Vols look to close season on six-game winning streak

Tennessee (7-5) is bowling after missing out the previous two seasons, and given how Jeremy Pruitt’s team started 2019, its late-season flourish to reach the Gator Bowl was impressive. The Volunteers opened the season with an embarrassing 38-30 home loss to Georgia State, and followed that up with a home loss to BYU.

The schedule did them no favors as they opened conference play against divisional rivals and heavyweights Florida and Georgia, and the Volunteers were 1-4 after being manhandled 43-14 at home by the Bulldogs. But Tennessee turned it around thanks to its defense and reeled off five straight victories to close the season after a 35-13 loss to then-No. 1 Alabama. The Vols held opponents to 14.2 points and 304 yards per game in those wins as they seek their first six-game winning streak since closing out the 2015 season with six consecutive triumphs.

Tennessee’s defense is paced by safety Nigel Warrior and linebacker Daniel Bituli, who were both tabbed second-team all-SEC players. Warrior leads the Volunteers with four interceptions and is second with 68 tackles, while Bituli had a team-high 82 tackles and was second with three sacks. Freshman linebacker Henry To’o To’o also made significant contributions as a starter from day one and is third on the team with 64 tackles, including five for loss.

The Vols’ offense was inconsistent, though quarterback Jarrett Guarantano did post career bests of 1,937 yards and 16 touchdowns. The junior quarterback has thrown for 1,026 yards and eight TDs during Tennessee’s win streak, highlighted by a 415-yard performance against Missouri.

Guarantano, though, will be without his top target — Jajuan Jennings — for the first half of this contest. Jennings, who had team highs of 57 receptions, 942 yards and eight touchdowns, was suspended by the SEC for stepping on the face of Vanderbilt’s Justice Shelton-Mosley after making a tackle in Tennessee’s season finale. Marquez Callaway, who averaged 21.2 yards on his 29 receptions, will likely see more passes thrown his way in the first two quarters to make up for Jennings’ absence.

Plays to consider

This is perhaps the most even bowl match-up given how both teams are good, but not great. Jennings’ absence in the first half could loom large for the Volunteers given their sputtering offense — Tennessee averaged 24.3 points on the season but was still held to 20 or fewer points on five occasions. Indiana, meanwhile, was held below 20 just twice and scored 30 or more points nine times.

The play that offers arguably the most appeal is the first-half under with Jennings’ absence. The safer play is with DraftKings and BetRivers, who are offering an over/under of 27.5 points at -127, while BetAmerica has a listing of 26.5 points at -110 and FanDuel is at 25.5 points at -110.

While Tennessee has an above-average secondary and riding a five-game winning streak, Indiana showed plenty of mettle in edging arch-rival Purdue in overtime to avoid entering bowl season with a three-game losing streak. While the Hoosiers’ winning drought in a bowl game may continue, this game has all the look of a one-possession game and makes taking Indiana and the 2.5 points something to consider.

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Chris Altruda

Chris Altruda has been a sportswriter with ESPN, The Associated Press, and STATS over more than two decades. He recently expanded into covering sports betting and gambling around the Midwest.

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