TransPerfect Music City Bowl
Purdue and Tennessee will meet on Thursday afternoon in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl in Nashville. The game starts at 3 PM ET and can be seen on ESPN.
Purdue had a solid 8-4 season and competed in the Big Ten West. The main highlights of the season were wins over Iowa and Michigan State-- both undefeated and ranked no. 2 at the time. They also beat Oregon State and hung tough with Notre Dame.
The offensive star for the Boilermakers is wide receiver David Bell. Bell had his second career 1,000-yard receiving season with a career-high 1,286 yards in 2021. That included two games with over 200 yards against Iowa and Michigan State. The unsung hero of the offense has to be quarterback Aidan O'Connell. O'Connell was not someone you thought you would be pointing out on the Purdue offense, but he quietly put up 3,178 passing yards with 23 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
Purdue also has a very solid defense led by potential first-round NFL prospect George Karlaftis at defensive end. They give up big chunks of yardage but allow just over 20 points per game.
Both Bell and Karlaftis have declared for the NFL draft and will not play in this game.
Tennessee had a tumultuous offseason with the abrupt firing of Jeremy Pruitt following a recruiting scandal. Josh Heupel came in from Central Florida (UCF) and has brought some optimism after a 7-5 season in his first year in Knoxville.
One reason for optimism is a vastly improved offense. As a former quarterback and even more so in his coaching career, Heupel has been known for high-powered offenses. This year., Joe Milton started as the quarterback but was replaced by Hendon Hooker. Hooker has quickly become an NFL prospect in that time frame, although he is returning to school next year, after throwing for over 2,500 yards and rushing for 562 as the team's second-leading rusher. Cedric Tillman is on the cusp of a 1,000-yard receiving season and Velus has added another 722.
The Tennessee offense has averaged 38.8 points per game this season, but the defense needs to be better against Purdue's passing attack. The Volunteers have allowed half of their opponents this season to score more than 35 points. That isn't sustainable, especially against Purdue.