The Tennessee Volunteers (7-6, 4-4) came into the Music City Bowl matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers (9-4, 6-3) looking to put a stamp on what was considered by many to be a very strong first season under head coach Josh Heupel.
But the Boilermakers ruined the party despite missing several key starters and three interceptions from Aidan O’Connell. Purdue also overcame a 21-7 first quarter deficit by scoring 16 unanswered points in the second quarter, which were the catalyst to Purdue’s 23-21 halftime lead.
There were plenty of bright spots for the Vols: Hendon Hooker threw five touchdowns, Jabari Small ran for 180 yards and a touchdown, and Cedric Tillman caught three touchdowns. Plenty of defensive players made plays throughout the night, too.
But it wasn’t enough and as a result, the Vols will go into Year Two looking for their first bowl win under Heupel.
The Vols won the toss, but deferred, so the Boilermakers received the ball to start the game.
It looked like the Vols defense was about to earn a quick and three-and-out, but Jeremy Banks was hit with defensive pass interference on 3rd and 3, which gave the Boilermakers a 1st and 10 from their own 36.
Tennessee’s defense held strong on a 3rd and 2 from its own 45 a few plays later, but Purdue decided to go for it due to the field position. Aidan O’Connell had a guy wide open downfield, but couldn’t connect. Purdue punted and Tennessee’s offense took over at its own 45.
Jabari Small immediately took the ball into Purdue territory with a seven-yard run on first down and Hendon Hooker picked up seven yards himself on 3rd and 3 two plays later. The Vols’ quick-pace offense struck gold on the next play as Hooker connected with Cedric Tillman on the next play for a 41-yard touchdown. Purdue’s defense didn’t even have enough time to line up because Tennessee moved so fast. Chase McGrath’s PAT went through the uprights and the Vols led, 7-0, with 10:28 left in the first quarter.
The Hendon Hooker ➡️ Cedric Tillman deep ball connection CONTINUES to succeed ⚪️ pic.twitter.com/l0K15vKLrA— 104-5 The Zone (@1045TheZone) December 30, 2021
Purdue showed its own ability to score big and fast on the first play of its second drive of the game. O’Connell rolled to his right and hit Broc Thompson 45-yards downfield and Thompson did the rest as he ran 30 more yards downfield to make it a 7-6 game. Mitchell Finneran’s PAT was good and the game was now tied, 7-7, with 10:15 to go in the first quarter.
Purdue responds with a 75 yard TD pass from Aidan O’Connell to Broc Thompson. We are not even 5 minutes in & both teams have a TD.— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) December 30, 2021
Both teams went three-and-out afterward, with the highlight being a sack by Tennessee’s Caleb Tremblay on third down that led to Purdue’s second punt of the game.
Tennessee’s quick-strike offense struck again as Hooker found Tillman down the right sideline for a 61-yard touchdown. McGrath’s PAT was good and the Vols led, 14-7, with 6:31 to go in the first quarter.
Cedric Tillman playing the hits in the Music City pic.twitter.com/7BDWftil0y— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) December 30, 2021
Purdue fired back with a 34-yard completion to Thompson off the flea flicker on the first play of its subsequent drive.
Kamal Hadden was slapped with a DPI on the following play and the Boilermakers quickly set themselves up with a 1st and 10 at the UT 31, but Hadden picked off an O’Connell throw in the end zone on the very next play, which gave Tennessee’s offense a fresh set of downs at their own 20.
Jalin Hyatt’s 31-yard reception and JaVonta Payton’s 24-yard reception helped Tennessee to a 1st and 10 at the Purdue 12. A DPI call on Jalen Graham killed Purdue’s shot at forcing the field goal. Instead, Tennessee’s offense now had a 1st and goal at the 2.
Nice pass by Hendon Hooker to JaVonta Payton for the 24 yard gain. Jabari Small would score for the Vols on a 2 yard TD rush. Tennessee is up by 2 scores early.— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) December 30, 2021
Small made the Boilermakers pay for the DPI on the next play as he plunged into the end zone. McGrath’s third PAT of the game was good and the Vols led, 21-7, with 3:29 left in the first quarter.
Purdue’s following drive contained a couple of big plays as O’Connell found Jackson Anthrop deep for a 29-yard completion and Warren Burrell was flagged on a 15-yard DPI call. O’Connell and Co. soon faced a 3rd and 2, but O’Connell and Anthrop connected again -this time for four yards- and Purdue had a fresh set of downs at the Tennessee 15.
The Vols defense stopped the Boilermakers offense, but they didn’t stop them from scoring points. Finneran’s 24-yard field goal made it a 21-10 game with 14:01 to go in the second quarter.
Tennessee’s next drive started at its own 23. Tillman and Hooker connected for 12-yards on an early 2nd and 5 and Marvin Grant was flagged for unnecessary roughness, which added 15 more yards and set the Vols offense up with a 1st and 10 and their Purdue 45.
But Jerome Carvin was hit with a personal foul a couple plays later and that was the catalyst in the Vols facing a 3rd and 22. The Vols couldn’t convert, which led to Brooks’ second punt of the game.
Purdue took over at its own 13. It didn’t take long for the offense to find itself in Tennessee territory thanks to a 41-yard bomb from O’Connell to Anthrop. King Doerue then ran for nine- and six-yards to help his offense enter the red zone.
O’Connell and the offense couldn’t finish, however, and Finneran was left with a 35-yard attempt. He connected and cut the Vols’ lead to 21-13 with 9:42 left in the first half.
Tennessee methodically moved into Purdue territory on its following drive, but an illegal formation on 2nd and 7 left the offense with a 2nd and 12 that eventually led to a 4th and 4 after Hooker couldn’t hit Velus Jones Jr. down the left sideline on 3rd and 4. That 4th adn 4 soon turned into 4th and 9 from the Purdue 38 after Princeton Fant was flagged for a false start.
Josh Heupel decided to go for it, but the offense couldn’t get it done and O’Connell and the Purdue offense took over at its own 38.
Aaron Beasley and Tennessee’s defense wasn’t having it, though. Beasley made a great play for a five-yard loss on 1st and 10 and the Boilermakers offense never recovered. It didn’t matter, however, as Tennessee’s offense went three-and-out itself on the following drive.
Purdue quickly found itself with a 1st and goal at the UT 2 after TJ Sheffield’s 38-yard reception set it up in the situation. Banks and the Vols defense stood tall and sacked O’Connell for a 10-yard loss and 3rd and goal. Finneran’s third kick of the game -this time a 29-yard attempt- was good and the Vols led, 21-16, with 1:03 to go in the first half.
Disaster struck on 3rd and 10 when Hooker’s arm was hit by DeMarcus Mitchell as he attempted a pass. It was clear that Hooker’s arm was not going forward and the Boilermakers recovered the ball at the Tennessee 28,
DaMarcus Mitchell gets the strip-sack and Purdue recovers the fumble! pic.twitter.com/gHzEm63woK— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 30, 2021
O’Connell immediately found Deion Burks down the seam for 26-yards to the Tennessee 2. The Boilermaker offense made it look easy on the next play as O’Connell ran the play fake and found a wide-open Payne Durham in the flat for the touchdown. Finneran’s PAT made it a 23-21 game with :19 left in the first half.
Tennessee kneeled the ball knowing it would receive the ball to start the second half.
The Vols gained 37 yards on their first three plays of the second half before committing a false start that created a 1st and 15. Purdue balanced things out with seven-yard DPI on the following play to offset the call, however, and give Tennessee a new set of downs.
It took four more plays until Tennessee found the end zone. Hooker connected with Jones Jr. on a screen pass down the left sideline for a 15-yard catch-and-run that made it a 28-23 game with 12:45 left in the third quarter after McGrath’s PAT went through the uprights.
Tennessee’s defense thought it had Purdue dead to rights in terms of a three-and-out, but Theo Jackson was called for DPI, which extended the drive. Gains of 26- and 25-yards from Zander Horvath and Garret Miller helped Purdue land a 1st and goal from the Tennessee 10. Both plays were outstanding throw-and-catches from O’Connell to his intended targets.
O’Connell then completed passes of 13- and 10-yards -the final being a touchdown pass to Sheffield- to make it a 29-28 game. Finneran’s PAT was good and Purdue now led, 30-28, with 9:04 left in the third quarter.
Aidan O'Connell DIME to TJ Sheffield for the 10 yard TD! pic.twitter.com/o2ZgQxGtUE— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 30, 2021
A holding call on Jones Jr.’s kick return had the Vols starting the next drive at their own 14 instead of around their own 43.
Hooker then fumbled the ball again thanks to a bad snap on 2nd and 8 that created a 3rd and 17 from their own 8. The subsequent screen was unsuccessful and the Vols had to punt.
Brook’s punt went for about 38-yards and Purdue took over at the Tennessee 45. Tim Banks’ defense came up with its best series of the game as of the moment and held Purdue to just three yards and forced the punt.
The bad news is Tennessee started its next drive at its own 4 and gained just four yards. The Vols punted back to the Purdue offense, who started at midfield.
It looked like Colin Sullivan’s acrobatic catch on the right sideline was going to kick off Purdue’s ensuing drive, but replay overturned the initial ruling that it was a catch. The ruling turned out to be huge as O’Connell was intercepted by Byron Young on the next play.
Jones Jr.’s 30-yard catch-and-run moved the Vols into field goal range and that’s as far as they went. McGrath’s 30-yard field goal was enough to give them a 31-30 lead with 4:21 to go in the third quarter, however, so the most recent drive was most certainly a success.
Purdue’s following drive was nowhere near considered a success. The offense moved into Tennessee territory, but solid pressure on a 2nd and 10 from the Tennessee 39 resulted in O’Connell’s third interception of the game once Trevon Flowers picked him off at the Tennessee 15.
Back-to-back drives ending in a BRUTAL Aidan O'Connell INT pic.twitter.com/I0Ywci56rH— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 30, 2021
Tennessee’s offense ran an uncharacteristic 10 plays before it entered Purdue territory on the next drive. Hooker stood tall in the pocket as the offensive line held its blocks as he completed a 10-yard pass to Tillman on a key 3rd and 4. The offense soon faced another third down -this time a 3rd and 8- from the Purdue 29, but the Vols couldn’t convert.
Tennessee tried to run its hurry up on the following 4th and 1, but the Purdue defense stopped Hooker behind the line of scrimmage and gave its offense a shot to take the lead.
The Vols defense had a chance to stop the Boilermakers on 3rd and 7, but O’Connell and Thompson hooked up for a nine-yard gain to keep the drive alive. But the drive ended shortly after as Banks nearly picked O’Connell off. Purdue punted the ball and the Vols took over at their own 8.
Tennessee passed the ball on the first play of the drive, but then ran it six straight times before facing a 2nd and 8 at its own 45. The Vols avoided disaster as Hooker fumbled the ball at the mesh point and lost just a yard, which made it 3rd and 9.
Hooker and Co. couldn’t convert due to pressure from the Purdue defense and the Vols punted the ball away. Purdue took over at its own 10 with another chance to take the lead.
The drive started off great for the Boilermakers. What looked like an incompletion was actually Burrell’s second DPI of the night. Burrell was hit with his third DPI on the very next play and all of sudden, Purdue had a 1st and 10 at its own 35.
And before Tennessee knew it, Durham was breaking tackles and rumbling down the right sideline for a 62-yard touchdown. O’Connell then found Durham in the end zone for the two-point conversion to make it a 38-31 game with 4:53 to go.
PAYNE. MF. DURHAM. PURDUE LEADS 38-31 pic.twitter.com/zOHsGKYuwb— The Dylan & Dylan Show (@DylanDylanShow) December 30, 2021
But of course, Tennessee’s offense is perfectly suited for a catch-up type-of-scenario and that’s exactly what it did. Small broke off a 60-yard run and then Hooker connected with Tillman on a 13-yard slant pattern on 4th and goal from the Purdue 13 to make it a 38-37 game before McGrath’s PAT tied it up with 3:37 left in the game.
VOLS! Hendon Hooker to Cedric Tillman 13 yard TD on 4th down to tie the game! pic.twitter.com/ZPPmdp1ZJh— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 31, 2021
It took just three plays to break the tie. And who else could it have been but Thompson? O’Connell dropped back and launched one over Burrell and Thompson took it the rest of the way to put Purdue back up, 45-38, with 2:57 to go.
BROC THOMPSON 70 YARD TOUCHDOWN TO GIVE PURDUE THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/RWfVWSb3T9— Alex (@dbs408) December 31, 2021
Tennessee couldn’t score in three plays like Purdue did, but it scored in four. Fant’s 58-yard catch-and-run keyed Hyatt’s two-yard touchdown catch. But don’t get it twisted: Hyatt’s reception was an incredible feat of balance, athleticism, concentration, and good hands.
Hendon Hooker to Princeton Fant for 58 yards!!!— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 31, 2021
Big play after big play in this game!! INSANE!!! pic.twitter.com/8Zxfulmxgp
Hendon Hooker to Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee ties it AGAIN.— The Dylan & Dylan Show (@DylanDylanShow) December 31, 2021
This game is so nuts. pic.twitter.com/sLqChmboVl
Tennessee’s defense stood tall during one of the biggest moments in the game and held Purdue to a three-and-out. Hooker and Co. received the ball back with :44 left and they were helped with a 15-yard horse collar call on Purdue that allowed them to start at their own 40 with three timeouts left.
Tennessee quickly found itself in Purdue territory with :24 to go, but had to overcome a 4th and 2 with :07 left before it could try the game-winning field goal. The Vols overcame the fourth down, but didn’t score any points. Nevertheless, the McGrath had a chance to win the game with :02 to go.
McGrath would have to hit a 56-yarder in order to win the game. He couldn’t do it and the game went to overtime.
Tennessee quickly faced a 3rd and 2 from the 21. They handed off from shotgun and Purdue stopped them for no gain. Heupel decides to go for it on 4th and 2 instead of kicking the field goal and Hooker escapes a sack and runs three-yards for the first down. Jaylen Wright runs 12-yards on the next play down to the Purdue 2. Hooker is then sacked for a seven-yard loss, but Wright gains six-yards on the next carry to make it 3rd and goal from the 3.
Wright runs two yards to the Purdue 1 and Tennessee decides to go for it on 4th and goal from the 1. The referees ruled Wright’s forward motion stopped short of the goal line despite the ball being over the goal line before the whistle blew.
All the Boilermakers needed was a field goal to win. O’Connell completed a seven-yard pass on first down, but Tennessee’s defense held the Boilermakers to -3 yards on the next two plays to force the 38-yard field goal attempt.
Finneran’s kick was perfect and the Boilermakers won, 48-45.
Tennessee’s final record for the 2021 season is 7-6 with a 4-4 record in SEC play.