CORY GUNKEL'S TAKE
There's something about Florida bowl games against Big 10 teams recently that have made Tennessee turn into giants among boys. The Vols just absolutely decimated Northwestern and it wasn't even suspenseful after the Wildcats scored their only touchdown of the game. Tennessee came into Tampa on a business trip, treating it as an extended regular season game, and it showed in the final score. Team 119 wasn't there to enjoy the scenery or take in the Tamp sights. It was there for the beatdown.
It's hard to ask for much more from the offense, spearheaded by the unbelievable ground trio of Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. These guys are going to go down in history as some of the best rushers to play for Tennessee in the modern era and for good reason. They became the first players to score three separate rushing touchdowns for Tennessee since the 1986 Sugar Bowl. Jalen Hurd rumbled for 130 yards and made it look like he was playing against children. Dobbs turned a fumbled snap into his most impressive touchdown of the season as he tiptoed down the sidelines for a score, and Alex Ellis played the best game of his career with 74 receiving yards up the middle. This is Tennessee football offensively this year: pound the rock down your throat until you can't take it anymore.
Cam Sutton was lost early in the game, and it didn't look like it even fazed Tennessee's defense. The Vols' secondary hauled in four picks and locked down the Wildcats for just 129 passing yards. The defensive line looked like an unstoppable force, smashing Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson over and over again. At one point, I thought Derek Barnett killed him. Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland played an extremely impressive game together, and Kahlil McKenzie showcased what the future holds on a D that held Northwestern to 4-of-15 on third down and six total points. Evan Berry absolutely demoralized the Wildcats for the rest of the offseason with a 100-yard pick-six that was the equivalent of kicking a dead horse as hard as possible.
The hype next year will be unstoppable. Tennessee fans will want nothing short of a trip to Atlanta. With a solid nucleus of players returning, that should not just be the goal: it should be what happens.
Special teams: B
DANNY PARKER'S TAKE
Looking for the energy that accompanies a New Year's Day bowl victory and a springboard into 2016, Tennessee got just what it was looking for by soundly defeating No. 13 Northwestern 45-6.
The Big Orange set an Outback Bowl record with five rushing touchdowns, 45 points and the longest interception return for a touchdown with Evan Bery's 100-yard trip to pay dirt. Tennessee carries its longest winning streak since 2003 into the 2016 season.
The way the Volunteers were able to do what they pleased running the ball resembled the Bowling Green game. Six drives were 40 yards or more in length. Jalen Hurd scared a couple mothers of Northwestern defenders with how he ran the football with no concern for their Wildcat lives. Getting 130 on the ground against the then-No. 13 rush defense was impressive.
Derek Barnett, Darrin Kirkland and Jalen Reeves-Maybin combined for 20 tackles, (15 solo) and three sacks. Doug Atkins would have been pleased. Brian Randolph getting an interception in his final game as a Volunteer was well-deserved.
Does Tennessee open up the 2016 preseason polls ranked in the top 10? Top 15? Returning starters and bowl performance tend to have a lot to do with those mostly meaningless numbers. What, if any, Vols forgo any eligibility for the National Football League Draft will be a factor.
Trevor Daniel gave the Orange & White a clear advantage in the punting game as the Dickson native averaged 47.8 yards per punt on four attempts with two landing inside the 20.
Special teams: B
JOSH WOODWARD'S TAKE
Special teams: B
What a start to 2016 for Tennessee. That was as big of a butt whoopin' we have seen in awhile. The hype machine has now started for the Vols for the 2016 season.
Offensively, Northwestern had a plan to stop Josh Dobbs running the ball, but they forgot about Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Hurd gashed Northwestern straight up the middle behind Coleman Thomas. A huge day for former walk-on Alex Ellis, as he hauled in three passes from Dobbs for 74 receiving yards. There will be a full stable of weapons for the Tennessee offense heading into the fall of 2016, and it should be a fun team to watch.
Defensively, I don't think it was too big of a challenge for the Vols. Northwestern didn't have anyone that could burn you on the offensive side of the football. I thought the linebackers played well. I really liked the play of Derek Barnett, as he has played well of late. The loss of Cameron Sutton did hurt, but it helps for the future if he leaves for the NFL.
Trevor Daniel's punting today was a thing of beauty, hard to believe he wasn't All SEC. Medley did miss a field goal, but it was from 49 yards out. Other than that it was a quite day on Special Teams.
Overall, it was a great bowl performance from Tennessee. Butch had his team prepared and looked like a top 5 team today. The expectations in Knoxville will be as high as we have ever seen them. As Justin Martin tweeted after the game, "See ya next year Tampa."