Vols withdraw from Liberty Bowl against West Virginia

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    Photo By Caleb Jones/Tennessee Athletics

    Tennessee will no longer play in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve against West Virginia, the program announced Monday afternoon.

    “After receiving Sunday’s COVID-19 test results, the University of Tennessee football program has paused all team activities and will be unable to compete in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl,” the football program said in a press release. “The test results revealed an increase in positive cases among student-athletes and staff and subsequent contact tracing. The decision was made in consultation with health officials, the Southeastern Conference and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

    “The student-athletes and staff affected are taking the appropriate safety measures in accordance with University, CDC and local health department guidelines. The University of Tennessee extends its sincere appreciation to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl and the city of Memphis and is disappointed it will not be able to fulfill its commitment on New Year’s Eve.”

    The Vols accepted the bid to the bowl game less than 24 hours ago. Tennessee’s 2020 season was set to conclude its 2020 season against West Virginia on New Year’s Eve. UT now finishes the season 3-7 following Saturday’s loss to A&M.

    Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt was one of the members within the program to test positive for COVID.

    “Earlier today, I was informed by our medical staff that I have tested positive for COVID-19, and I immediately began isolating at home,” Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “I am experiencing mild symptoms but doing fine.

    “We are obviously disappointed that we will not be able to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but the health and safety of our student-athletes will always remain our top priority. I am especially proud of our team and medical staff in safely navigating through a unique season where we played all 10 of our regular-season games.”

    Tennessee was eligible for a bowl game despite a 3-7 record because the NCAA eliminated a win requirement prior to the season due to the uncertainty of the season in regards to COVID-19. The Vols began the season 2-0, but lost seven out of their eight remaining games.

    UT’s loss to Texas A&M was the fifth home loss of the season. In the five home losses, the Vols lost by an average of 22.0 points per game.

    Tennessee struck first on a 33-yard passing touchdown from Harrison Bailey to Jacob Warren. It sparked hope that UT could potentially hang around, but A&M proceeded to score on all four of its offensive possessions in the first half. A 46-yard touchdown pass from J.T. Shrout to Cedric Tillman made it a four-point game with 4:08 remaining in the second quarter, but the Aggies responded with a four-yard rushing touchdown to take a 24-13 lead into halftime.

    Texas A&M pitched a shutout in the second half defensively to close out the game. The Vols didn’t score over the final 30 minutes while the Aggies scored twice to close out the 21-point win. For the game, A&M scored on six of their nine possessions. The Aggies were in the victory formation on one of the three drives it did not score.

    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also the host of the RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.