Vol fans are no strangers to watching Tennessee pull off seemingly impossible comebacks. The Vols have had to come from behind in the second half to win multiple games this season, and past Volunteer teams in 2016, 2015, and 2014 have all done the same.
But Tennessee’s comeback win over Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl is a different breed of comeback, at least as it pertains to the 2019 college football season.
The Vols trailed the Hoosiers 22-9 with 10:27 to go in the fourth quarter after a Logan Justus 30-yard field goal. After a three-and-out on offense then UT’s defense forcing Indiana’s offense into a three-and-out, the Vols took over at their own 18-yard line with 7:06 to go in the game.
Tennessee promptly charged down the field, and a one-yard touchdown run by Quavaris Crouch with 4:19 remaining capped off a 10-play, 82-yard drive. The Vols then attempted a surprise onside kick and executed it to perfection, as freshman running back Eric Gray snagged the ball as it just traveled the needed 10 yards.
Three plays later, Gray gave Tennessee the game-winning score with a 16-yard touchdown run with 3:51 to go.
In a matter of 28 seconds of game time, the Vols went from down 13 points to up by one.
Tennessee’s defense did their part, and Indiana missed a 52-yard field goal on one possession and turned it over on downs on their final possession, sealing the Vols’ 23-22 victory in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
As the clock wound down, Tennessee’s comeback seemed less and less probable. And a stat revealed by ESPN shows just how unique the Vols’ comeback was this season.
According to ESPN’s stats and info department, the Vols were the first team this season to erase a 13-point deficit in the final five minutes to win a game. Entering Thursday’s game, FBS teams were 0-471 when trailing by 13 or more points in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter this season. The Vols became the first team all year to get a win in that situation.
Tennessee overcomes a 13-point deficit in the final 5 minutes to stun Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
Entering this matchup, FBS teams were 0-471 when trailing by at least 13 points in the final 5 minutes of the 4th quarter this season. pic.twitter.com/UzwQPli1oy
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 3, 2020
Per ESPN’s win probability metric, the Hoosiers had a 97.6 percent chance of winning after Jarrett Guarantano’s pass to Tim Jordan behind the line of scrimmage on third down with 9:22 to go in the game. After Guarantano’s incomplete pass to Marquez Callaway from the Indiana 13-yard line with 5:26 to go, the Hoosiers had a 96.4 percent chance of winning.
But once the Vols scored their first touchdown of the game, that probably dipped to 84.8 percent. Then 30 seconds later, the probability flipped in UT’s favor after Eric Gray’s touchdown run, with Tennessee having a 69 percent shot at winning.
Then the Vols eventually salted the game away, and they came away with the improbable and seemingly impossible victory.
This isn’t the first time in the last decade that Tennessee has mounted this type of comeback, though. Back in 2014, the Vols trailed South Carolina 42-28 with 4:52 to go in the game after a Brandon Wilds 70-yard touchdown run. But in a span of less than five minutes, UT erased that deficit and tied up the game in regulation with 11 seconds to go. Tennessee eventually won 45-42 in overtime.
Tennessee’s fourth quarter comeback against Indiana was about as improbable as it gets, but it’s the second time in six years that the Vols have erased a two touchdown lead in less than five minutes in the fourth quarter to pull out a win.
In 2014, that victory was the coming out party for Josh Dobbs at quarterback and helped spur the Vols on to a bowl game — which ironically was the TaxSlayer Bowl.
How will this comeback victory affect the immediate future of Tennessee football? Only time will tell, but the win improved the Vols to 8-5 on the season after they started out 1-4, and it gave UT their sixth-straight win on the year.
The Vols have closed out the 2019 season strong. Now let’s see if they can carry that momentum into the 2020 season.