TAMPA, Fla. — Tennessee spent the first day of the new year making history.
Jalen Hurd became the first Vol running back to run for more than 100 yards in multiple bowl games as No. 23 Tennessee turned in its most lopsided bowl win ever, walloping No. 13 Northwestern, 45-6, to take home the Outback Bowl trophy under a scorching Florida sun.
"I think this game showed the maturity of this football team," Butch Jones said. "With the heat, taking care of their bodies, the workmanlike approach that we displayed — not only here at the bowl site, but back home in Knoxville. They had that championship mindset."
This game was about as close as Knoxville is to Tampa, with Tennessee forcing four turnovers and outgained the Wildcats 420-261 in total yards to close out a rout that got out of hand early in the second quarter and spiraled out of control in the second half. Josh Dobbs started the scoring in the first quarter with a 14-yard rushing touchdown at the end of the first quarter, sparking the 45-point onslaught and to finish the day 14-of-25 for 166 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
An Aaron Medley field goal put Tennessee up 10-0 with 10:47 to play in the second half before Northwestern punched in its only score of the day off a 5-yard Justin Jackson run to bring the score to 10-6 after a missed extra point. It was then that Tennessee reeled off 35 consecutive points to dispose of the Wildcats and clinch the program's first 9-win season since 2007.
"I thought we played complimentary football," Jones said. "The great teams, the teams that win, they play complimentary football in all three phases, and we were able to do that."
In a game of impressive performances, sophomore running back Jalen Hurd's game on the ground stood out above all. The sophomore rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries to take home the Outback Bowl MVP trophy and earn consecutive bowl victories. Hurd was considered a game-time decision by Jones after pulling his hamstring in practice earlier in the week, but was able to work with the training staff to ensure he was able to put on a show for the announced 53,202 fans in attendance at Raymond James Stadium.
"I did treatment all week and put it in my mind that I was going to play to win," Hurd said. "On Thursday, I ran around a little bit and I felt pretty good."
The Vols' dominant win was punctuated by a 100-yard Evan Berry interception return with Northwestern driving and a mere eight seconds left in the game. Berry's pick-six flung salt in the still-gaping wound of the Wildcats and capped Tennessee's historic New Year's Day.
"Coming in on a five game winning streak, I told my football team last night: 'Who are we? What do we stand for'," Jones said. "We can't forget the blueprint of what got us to this point, our habits, our style of play, all the things that are important to playing winning football. Last night they had that look in their eye, and this morning, I could sense it."