No. 9 Tennessee 48, No. 11 Northwestern 28
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Peyton Manning, in what may have been his final college game, threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns and ran for one TD as No. 9 Tennessee beat No. 11 Northwestern 48-28 in the Citrus Bowl Wednesday.
Manning made a convincing case that he’s ready for the NFL. The junior quarterback, who likely would be one of the top picks if he leaves school a year early, completed 27-of-39 passes, including a 67-yard touchdown to Joey Kent that put the Volunteers (10-2) ahead for good late in the first half.
Northwestern (9-3) fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter but rallied to tie the score with three touchdowns in the second period, the last two coming only a minute apart.
But Kent put the Vols back in front with his second touchdown, grabbing a pass from Manning over the middle and zig-zagging the last 50 yards to score with 1:58 left in the half. Jeff Hall added a 19-yard field goal on the final play of the period, giving Tennessee a 31-21 lead at halftime.
Any hopes of another Northwestern comeback were dashed when Tyrone Hines intercepted Steve Schnur’s pass and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the second half.
Kent, who also had a 11-yard scoring reception, finished with five receptions for 122 yards. Peerless Price had six catches for 110 yards, including a 43-yarder for Tennessee’s first TD.
Northwestern, which tied with Ohio State for its second straight Big Ten championship, faltered again in the postseason against a seemingly quicker, faster opponent. Last season, the Wildcats were beaten in the Rose Bowl by Southern California 41-32, the most points they allowed all season.
Tennessee piled up 523 yards _ nearly 200 more than the Wildcats’ average _ and scored more points than any Northwestern opponent this season.
The Vols wrapped up their third 10-win season in the past four years _ all ending with Citrus victories _ and received some consolation for failing to live up to preseason hype as one of the favorites for the national championship.
Tennessee was knocked out of the race for No. 1 by an early-season loss to Florida, then lost a chance to get in the bowl alliance with a shocking defeat at Memphis.
Schnur completed 25-of-45 for 228 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had three costly interceptions. Darnell Autry, who played despite a nearly 101-degree fever, was contained most of the game, finishing with only 66 yards on 17 carries, though he did having scoring runs of 2 and 28 yards.
Like Manning, Autry is considering whether to enter the NFL draft a year early, but he was clearly a loser in the matchup between two of the country’s top players.
While Autry failed to find much running room against a Tennessee defensive line that was missing three of its top linemen, Manning wasted no time picking on Northwestern cornerback Gerald Conoway, making his first career start after Hudhaifa Ismaeli reportedly failed a drug test. Tennessee receivers beat Conoway on all three of their first-half touchdowns.
Manning, the game’s MVP, had the second-most passing yards in Citrus history, topped only by a 447-yard performance by Richmond’s Buster O’Brien in 1968 when the bowl still matched small-college opponents.
Manning also had a 10-yard touchdown run, trotting into the end zone after a brilliant play fake, and topped off his day _ and perhaps his college career _ with a 6-yard scoring pass to Dustin Moore with 2:27 to go.
Schnur threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Brian Musso and a 22-yarder to D’Wayne Bates.
The Citrus Bowl was sponsored by CompUSA.