Coaches Jeff Brohm, Josh Heupel Music City Bowl
Tennessee dropped its season finale to Purdue, falling to the Boilermakers 48-45 in overtime in the Music City Bowl.
Here’s four quick takeaways.
Cedric Tillman Quickly Reaches 1,000 Yards
Junior receiver Cedric Tillman needed just 69 yards in the Music City Bowl to become the first Tennessee receiver to eclipse 1,000 yards in a season since Justin Hunter did so in 2012.
The receiver wasn’t shy about saying he wanted to reach the mark and it didn’t take him long to do so. Tillman’s first two catches came in the first quarter. They totaled 41 and 61 yards and both ended with him standing in the end zone.
The Las Vegas native ended his breakout season with one of his best games, totaling seven catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns. The big day shattered the 1,000 yard mark as Tillman ends his junior season with 1,081 yards.
Tillman’s three touchdown catches set a Tennessee bowl record and tied the UT single game record.
The season is truly remarkable for a player that had 124 combined yards his first three years in Knoxville.
The redshirt-junior’s plan to return to Tennessee for one more season is huge for the Vols’ offense heading into 2022. The Vols lose a pair of starters in Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton, but return their top pass catcher to go with quarterback Hendon Hooker.
That’s a great starting point for Josh Heupel’s second Tennessee offense.
Disastrous Second Quarter For Tennessee
Tennessee scored 21 points — mostly with ease — in four drives in the first quarter to take a 14-point lead in the second quarter.
Purdue’s offense was having success moving the football, but it looked like Tennessee was going to be able to name its number against an outmatched defense and secondary.
Then Tennessee’s offense took a complete 180 in the second quarter. In five second quarter drives, Tennessee punted, turned it over on downs, punted, fumbled and ran one play to run out the clock.
The Vols’ offensive struggles mostly boiled down to Hendon Hooker.
After completing six-of-eight passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, the signal caller completed just five-of-11 second quarter attempts for 27 yards.
There were still plays to be made down the field. On the drive where Tennessee turned it over on downs, Hooker slightly misfired to an open Velus Jones Jr down the field on third down — though Jones could have caught it — before missing a wide open Cedric Tillman while on the run on fourth down.
It looked like a completely different Tennessee team in the second quarter and that allowed Purdue to win the frame 16-0 and take a 23-21 lead into the break.
If the Vols’ defense didn’t hold Purdue to three field goals on four attempts in the red zone, the score could have been much worse at the break.
Purdue Torches Tennessee Through The Air But Vols Make Plays
Purdue entered the game without its two top receivers, David Bell and Milton Wright. That didn’t make much of a difference as the Boilermakers’ passing attack dominated the Vols’ secondary.
In fairness, Tennessee was without its top corner — Alontae Taylor — and a pair of other corners who would have earned playing time in his absence. Still, the Vols’ inability to slow down Purdue’s passing attack in the loss.
In total, Purdue threw for 534 yards and mostly moved the ball with ease. More than anything, Purdue had a great deal of success creating junk plays. O’Connell broke the Music City Bowl record for most passing yards in a game.
Despite all of Aidan O’Connell’s success, Tennessee’s defense made enough plays against him to keep the performance from being a disaster.
O’Connell threw three interceptions on the game including two on back-to-back drives in the second half.
First, Kamal Hadden intercepted an overthrow in the end zone. The defensive end Byron Young stepped in front of an out route for his first career interception and finally Trevon Flowers intercepted an awful O’Connell overthrow.
Those plays allowed Tennessee to hang tight and gain some momentum as its offense still struggled to find consistency in the third quarter.
However, late in the fourth quarter Tennessee’s secondary fell apart again. First, Payne Durham went 62 yards breaking a handful of tackles to take the lead. Then, Broc Thompson beat Warren Burrell for a 70-yard touchdown to reclaim the lead after UT tied it up.
Both plays came on third down.
Horrific Call Goes Against Tennessee
Something about Tennessee and Music City Bowl’s. Eleven years after Derek Dooley’s first Tennessee team had a horrible call go against them late in a loss to Purdue, a horrible call went against the Vols in overtime.
Tennessee went for it on fourth-and-goal at the one-yard line in overtime. Freshman Jaylen Wright made an incredible effort fighting through defenders eventually falling on one defender and reaching into the end zone.
Wright was marked short on the field but replay showed he was clearly in. After review the ruling on the field was confirmed due to forward progress.
Four plays later, Mitchell Fineran booted in a 38-yard field goal to secure the win for Purdue.
There’s really no words to describe how bad of a spot that was. Tennessee did plenty to keep itself from winning, but the officials secured the win for the Boilermakers.