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Northwestern blown out by Tennessee in Outback Bowl

Quarterback Clayton Thorson #18 of the Northwestern Wildcats slides under the defense of the Tennessee Volunteers during the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla. — Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called the Wildcats’ one-sided Outback Bowl loss to Tennessee humbling and motivating.

Joshua Dobbs threw for 166 yards and ran for two touchdowns, helping the Volunteers rout No. 12 Northwestern 45-6 on Friday.

“Sorry we didn’t give you a better game,” Fitzgerald said.

Northwestern (10-3) sputtered offensively and was unable to keep up with the stronger, faster Vols defensively in falling short on a bid to finish with a school-record 11 victories.

Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, one of just eight freshmen in the Football Bowl Subdivision since 2008 to lead his team to 10 wins, was 8-of-20 passing for 57 yards and two interceptions.

“This is one game at the end of a spectacular season,” Fitzgerald said. “I look at our body of work. 10 wins with a rookie quarterback, I’ll take it.”

The Wildcats, whose three losses came by a combined score of 123-16, were outgained 420 yards to 261.

“We needed to be more consistent,” Thorson said. “We did pretty well at times. That’s the thing with every offense, you can have a few big plays here and there, it doesn’t matter. It’s about doing it consistently on drives.”

Justin Jackson averaged over 5 yards per carry in rushing for 74 yards and one TD, a 5-yard run that finished a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter to trim Tennessee’s lead to 10-6.

The Wildcats missed the extra point, and it was pretty much all downhill from there.

“We’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ll get better, I believe that. You learn, you grow, you flush it. You take all the great lessons we learned today, all the great lessons we learned throughout the season, and you get better next year.”

Dobbs scored on runs 14 and 18 yards, while Jalen Hurd rushed for 130 yards and one TD for the Volunteers (9-4), who finished with at least nine wins for the first time since 2007. Evan Berry put a punctuation mark on the blowout by returning one of Tennessee’s four interceptions 100 yards for a TD in the closing seconds.

Dobbs completed 14 of 25 passes. The dual-threat quarterback ran 12 times for 48 yards, including a highlight-reel burst around right end in which he dove for his second TD after picking up a bobbled snap and tight-roping his way up the sideline to make it 31-6 early in the fourth quarter.

Hurd scored on 3-yard run in the third quarter and became the first Tennessee player to top 100 yards rushing in two bowl games. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound sophomore ran for 122 yards in the Vols’ victory over Iowa last season in the Taxslayer Bowl.

The 100-yard performance was the ninth of Hurd’s career, sixth this season.

Both teams ended the regular season on five-game winning streaks, Tennessee finishing strong after a 3-4 start that included losses to Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas by a combined 17 points, and Northwestern rebounding from lopsided Big Ten losses to Michigan and Iowa in consecutive weeks in October.

“It’s huge. We talked about finishing the season strong,” Dobbs said. “It shows we’re on the rise. We realize our potential and we have to grind to reach it but this was a good step.”

The Vols won the only previous meeting between the schools, 48-28 in the 1997 Florida Citrus Bowl. They improved to 3-1 in the Outback, where Tennessee beat Boston College on Jan. 1. 1993 and Wisconsin to finish with a 10-4 record eight years ago — the last time the Vols appeared in the SEC championship game and won at least nine games.