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Tennessee's Cameron Sutton races down the sideline as he returns a punt for a touchdown during the Volunteers' home win over Vanderbilt to close the regular season. The Vols face Northwestern today in the Outback Bowl.
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UT's Jalen Hurd (1) runs the ball in for a touchdown against Oklahoma's while in overtime play Saturday. The Volunteers lost to the Sooner's at home with a final score of 24-31 on September 12, 2015 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

TAMPA, Fla. — Tennessee's slow start in Friday's Outback Bowl was a distant memory by the time the Volunteers completed another postseason thumping of a Big Ten opponent.

A dominant second-half performance put the finishing touches on the 2015 season as No. 23 Tennessee routed 13th-ranked Northwestern 45-6 in front of 53,202 at Raymond James Stadium on Friday afternoon.

Tennessee finishes the season 9-4 and likely with a national ranking for the first time since 2007.

The Vols also did little to diminish their chances of being crowned the SEC East Division favorites in 2016 as a few returning players starred in Tennessee's second straight bowl victory.

Running back Jalen Hurd, questionable going into the game after picking up a hamstring injury this week, ran for 130 yards and one touchdown, and quarterback Josh Dobbs completed 14 of 26 passes for 126 yards and ran for two touchdowns.

Northwestern's Big Ten-worst offense never got going, and the Wildcats finished 10-3, missing out on the chance to register their program's first 11-win season.

Neither team started particularly well in a mundane first quarter in the Florida heat.

Tennessee produced just 19 yards on its first three possessions and failed to capitalize on an interception by Malik Foreman when wide receiver Jauan Jennings was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after Alvin Kamara's first-down run inside the 20-yard line.

Aaron Medley's 48-yard field goal attempt, which would have been a career long, bounced off the right upright.

The Vols helped Northwestern's offense on the next series with personal foul late-hit penalties by Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Kendal Vickers, but Jack Mitchell missed a 42-yard field goal wide right.

Dobbs ran for a 14-yard touchdown after Alex Ellis was left uncovered on a 42-yard gain, and Tennessee made it 10-0 on its next series on Medley's 35-yard field goal.

Northwestern responded with a touchdown drive kept alive by Justin Jackson's 2-yard run on fourth-and-inches at his own 34 and Clayton Thorson's 21-yard scramble on third down.

After Jackson punched it in, Mitchell pulled his extra point wide left and it was 10-6.

The Wildcats were flagged for defensive holding that wiped out a third-down sack on Tennessee's next series, and Kamara sped it from 11 yards out to make it 17-6.

That was the halftime score.

Tennessee outgained Northwestern 197-129 in the first half, and though the Wildcats had a 83-73, they passed for just 46 yards, while Dobbs was 10-of-16 for 124 yards with a rushing touchdown.

On its opening second-half possession, Tennessee elected for a fake field goal that never had a chance, but back-to-back sacks on the ensuing defensive series made sure the failure went unpunished.

The Vols then punished the Wildcats with a 14-play, 67-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes.

Two plays after converting on fourth-and-1 inside the 10, Hurd powered in from 3 yards out to make it 24-6 late in the third quarter.

Dobbs picked up a bad snap and outran Northwestern's defense for an 18-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to make it 31-6 as Tennessee blew the game open.

Freshman running back John Kelly tacked on a late touchdown for Tennessee.

Tennessee's defense played nearly the entire game without cornerback Cameron Sutton, who left the game in the first quarter with an undisclosed injury.

 

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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