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January 1, 2008
Ainge leads Vols to Outback Bowl win
MORE: Box score | Rivals.com Bowl Central
TAMPA, Fla. — Erik Ainge ensured No. 16 Tennessee wouldn't leave the Outback Bowl with another disappointing loss.
Capping a roller coaster career, the Volunteers star threw for 365 yards and two touchdowns Tuesday to pace a 21-17 victory that stopped No. 18 Wisconsin from joining Michigan as the only Big Ten teams to beat Southeastern Conference opponents in bowl games three consecutive seasons.
A month after having an interception returned for the winning score in a 21-14 loss to LSU in the SEC championship game, Ainge completed 25 of 43 passes without a turnover to win MVP honors and help the Vols (10-4) erase unpleasant memories of a 10-point loss to Penn State in last year's Outback game.
Antonio Wardlow sealed Tennessee's first 10-win season since 2004 when he intercepted Tyler Donovan's deep throw intended for Paul Hubbard in the end zone in the final minute. The Vols also thwarted another fourth-quarter drive by stopping Wisconsin on downs at the Tennessee 10.
Receiver Gerald Jones took a direct snap from center and scored on a 3-yard run, then Ainge tossed TD passes of 29 yards to Josh Briscoe and 31 yards to Brad Cottam to help Tennessee build a 21-7 lead.
Donovan's 4-yard TD throw to Andy Crooks trimmed Wisconsin's deficit to 21-14 at the half. The Badgers then pulled within four points on Taylor Mehlhaff's 27-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
The Wisconsin quarterback shrugged off several big hits, including helmet-to-helmet contact when he dove into the end zone on a 6-yard first-quarter run, to help Wisconsin (9-4) stay close by completing 14 of 24 passes for 155 yards.
P.J. Hill returned to Wisconsin's offense after sitting out two games and missing part of two others, running for 132 yards on 16 carries. His 50-yard run was the big play in the drive that stalled at the Tennessee 10 with six minutes left.
Donovan launched Wisconsin's last drive from his own 12 with 1:26 to go. The Badgers marched to the Tennessee 36 before the senior overthrew Hubbard, who was racing up the left side of the field.
Tennessee played without six players who were declared academically ineligible, including defensive tackle Demonte Bolden, linebacker Rico McCoy and leading receiver Lucas Taylor, who had 73 receptions for 1,000 yards and five TDs this season.
Briscoe took up the slack in the absence of Taylor, finishing with seven catches for 101 yards.
Both teams rebounded from tough stretches that ruined any hopes they had of contending for the national title to finish the regular season with nine victories.
Tennessee lost two of its first three games before winning eight of nine to earn a berth in the SEC championship game, where the Vols lost to LSU.
Wisconsin started 5-0 before losses at Illinois and Penn State dropped the Badgers out of the Top 25.
A lopsided loss at Ohio State eliminated any chance of winding up in the Rose Bowl, but the team regrouped to beat Michigan and Minnesota to head to Tampa for its fourth consecutive appearance in a January bowl.
The Badgers beat Auburn and Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl the previous two years and would have become just the second Big Ten program to beat SEC opponents in three straight bowl games.
MORE: Rivals.com Bowl Central