WHAT HAPPENED: Tennessee scored 35 consecutive points to roll to a 45-6 win over No. 12 Northwestern in front of 53,202 in the Outback Bowl in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
The Vols finish the season 9-4. Northwestern fell to 10-3.
Tennessee scored first on a 14-yard run by junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs with 14 seconds to go in the first quarter, and the Vols added a 35-yard field goal by kicker Aaron Medley early in the second quarter.
Northwestern running back Justin Jackson ran for a 5-yard touchdown with 5:40 to go int he second quarter, but the Wildcats missed an extra point and never scored again.
The Vols got four straight touchdowns on the ground — an 11-yarder by redshirt sophomore Alvin Kamara, a 3-yarder by sophomore Jalen Hurd, an 18-yarder by Dobbs and a 1-yarder by freshman John Kelly. Sophomore safety Evan Berry also returned an interception 100 yards, making sure the Wildcats didn’t get a late score.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Hurd won MVP honors by rushing for 130 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries despite playing through a hamstring injury.
Dobbs rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 166 yards. Kamara rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Alex Ellis, who had 43 receiving yards all season, caught three passes for 74 yards.
Sophomore defensive end Derek Barnett had eight tackles, including a sack. Four Tennessee defensive backs — Berry, Malik Foreman, Emmanuel Moseley and Brian Randolph — recorded interceptions.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: The Vols controlled both lines of scrimmage. On offense, they allowed three sacks, but rushed for 226 yards against a Northwestern defense that had given up just 117 per game during the regular season. On defense, they recorded four sacks and held the Wildcats decent running game to 132 yards.
Vols junior cornerback Cameron Sutton sat out the entire second half with a hamstring injury, but the Vols’ secondary still recorded four interceptions. Northwestern completed just 14 of 33 passes for 129 yards.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Vols made the No. 12 team in the nation look like the Missouri and Vanderbilt teams they pummeled at the end of the season. That means the Vols will almost certainly move up into the Top 25 and finish the regular season there for the first time since 2008.
This also means that the Vols will be carrying more hype into the offseason than they have in over a decade. This game will give even more ammunition to pundits who want to pick the Vols to win the SEC East next season, and put them in the top 15 if not the top 10. The Vols could lose as few as four starters if Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin opt to return, which means the next nine months will include a lot of questions about expectations.