December 29, 2021
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee will conclude its first season under head coach Josh Heupel on Thursday afternoon with a postseason matchup against Big 10 foe Purdue in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
The Vols will look to earn their fifth consecutive bowl victory. The previous four have all come against opponents from the Big 10.
Thursday’s contest will be televised on ESPN with Tom Hart (PxP), Jordan Rodgers (analyst) and Cole Cubelic (field analyst) on the call. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. CT/3 p.m. ET.
Fans can listen to Tennessee’s official radio broadcast on the Vol Network (WIVK-FM 107.7/WNML-FM 99.1) and satellite radio (Sirius Ch. 80, XM Ch. 190, Internet Ch. 161). A live audio stream of the broadcast will also be available on UTSports.com and the Official Gameday App.
Bob Kesling (PxP), Pat Ryan (analyst) and Brent Hubbs (analyst) will call the action, with Kasey Funderburg handling sideline duties. Big Orange Countdown begins at 12:30 p.m. CT/1:30 p.m. ET.
NEED TO KNOW
Tennessee is going bowling for the 54th time in program history. That ranks fifth all-time behind Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma. The Vols are 29-24 in bowl games, and those 29 victories rank seventh nationally. UT is making its third Music City Bowl appearance. The Vols topped No. 24 Nebraska, 38-24, in the 2016 game. UT dropped a 30-27 double overtime contest to North Carolina in the 2010 Music City Bowl.
Heupel is the fifth UT coach in the last 70 years to lead the Vols to a bowl berth in his debut season, joining Bill Battle (1970), Phillip Fulmer (1993), Lane Kiffin (2009) and Derek Dooley (2010). Of those previous four only Battle (def. Air Force in 1971 Sugar Bowl) won a bowl game in his first full debut season. Heupel has guided teams to a bowl berth in all four seasons as a head coach (three at UCF), and he is 1-2 in those previous games (lost to No. 11 LSU, 40-32, in 2019 Fiesta Bowl; def. Marshall, 48-25, in 2019 Gasparilla Bowl; lost to No. 16 BYU, 49-23, in 2020 Boca Raton Bowl).
Last Time Out
The Vols capped the regular season with a 45-21 victory over Vanderbilt on Senior Day. The Big Orange had a pair of 100-yard rushers for the second time this year as freshman Jaylen Wright and sophomore Jabari Small took 15 carries each for 112 and 103 yards, respectively. Tennessee averaged 6.8 yards per rush, totaling 285 yards on the ground for its fourth game above 250 yards rushing this season. Hendon Hooker delivered another efficient performance for UT, producing 231 total yards (156 passing, 75 rushing) and passing for a pair of touchdowns. Cedric Tillman led all receivers with six catches for 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Defensively, Theo Jackson opened the scoring with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown, marking the third pick six this season for the Vols.
Tillman Approaching 1K
Tillman has emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers this season, ranking sixth in the conference with a team-high 931 receiving yards, tied for fourth with nine touchdown catches and fifth in yards per reception (16.33). The redshirt junior is aiming to become just the eighth player in program history to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season and the first since Justin Hunter (1,083) in 2012.
Tillman has recorded at least five catches in seven straight games and has also caught at least one touchdown pass in six consecutive games, becoming the first Vol to achieve that feat since Joey Kent did it in seven straight games to start the 1995 season.
Fast, Fun, Real
A Josh Heupel specialty, Tennessee leads the nation in offensive plays per minute at 2.94. Ole Miss is second at 2.87. By comparison, the Vols averaged 2.36 a year ago, which was 58th in the FBS. UT averages 1.61 points per minute, which also leads the FBS. From 2018-20, Heupel’s UCF teams averaged a nation-high 3.04 plays per minute.
Tennessee enters the Music City Bowl with a chance to break a couple of school records. With 466 points scored this season, the Vols need just 19 to break the previous program record of 484, which was set back in 1993. UT is also just two touchdowns shy of tying the school record of 63 set by the 2016 team.
Boilermakers lead series, 1-0
Tennessee and Purdue have played just once previously, a 27-22 Boilermakers’ victory in the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston. This will be the first time Heupel has faced a Big Ten opponent as a head coach. The last time he played a Big Ten opponent was ironically Purdue on Sept. 16, 2017, when he was the offensive coordinator at Missouri.
The Boilermakers, led by fifth-year head coach Jeff Brohm, enter the Music City Bowl off an 8-4 regular season in which they finished tied for second in the Big 10 West standings with a 6-3 conference record. Purdue is receiving votes in both the Associated Press and AFCA Coaches polls.
Veteran quarterback Aidan O’Connell leads an explosive offense that ranks second in the Big 10 in passing yards per game (340.2). O’Connell ranks third in the Big 10 with 3,174 passing yards and fourth in the league with 23 touchdown passes. However, he will be missing his top target in first-team All-American wideout David Bell, who elected to opt out of the game in order to prepare for the NFL Draft. Bell led the Big 10 with 93 receptions and 116.9 receiving yards per game this season. Junior wide receiver Milton Wright will look to pick up the slack after leading the team with seven touchdown catches this year.
The Boilermakers will also be missing one of their top defensive players in All-American defensive end George Karlaftis, who like Bell has opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. Karlaftis led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and five sacks on the year. Purdue will have its leading tackler in senior linebacker Jaylan Alexander, who racked up 94 tackles and had 7.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and one forced fumble. Junior safety Cam Allen leads the Boilermakers’ secondary with 56 tackles, a forced fumble and a team-high four interceptions.
COURTESY TENNESSEE ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS