A great day for football in Nashville, Tennessee for the 2021 TransPerfect Music City Bowl saw the Purdue Boilermakers (9-4) and the Tennessee Volunteers (7-6) looking to end their seasons with a win. They would get their chance in front of the biggest crowd in the history of this game, 69,489. As you may have guessed, the crowd was full of Volunteer orange for the home-state team.
Purdue came into this game banged up and short-handed and was looking to get win number nine which would be the second-most wins in program history. A win in this game would also give them five wins away from home for the first time since 1943.
Tennessee has been a program looking to get back to its winning ways. Coaching changes and lackluster recruiting in recent years has seen the program struggle to compete. Then came Josh Heupel and things changed. This season the Vols offense played so well and by the game’s end, they would score more points in a season (484) than they ever have.
The first quarter was all Tennesse as QB Hendon Hooker would connect with WR Cedric Tillman twice for touchdown passes of 41 and 61 yards. RB Jabari Smalls would go in from two and the Vols had a 21-7 lead after one. This would all go the other way in quarter number two as the Vols offense sputtered. Purdue would have three drives that did not result in touchdowns but did net three Mitchell Fineran field goals to cut the lead to 21-16. Then, with 29 seconds left in the half, Hooker would be sacked and fumble the football. The Boilermakers would take advantage with just one play. Purdue QB Aidan O’Connell would hit WR Deion Burks for 26 yards to the Vols two and he finished off the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to Payne Durham to make it 23-21 Purdue at the half.
The second half would have some of the most exciting football this bowl game has ever seen. The Vols would open the second half with a seven-play 71-yard drive that ended with Hokker connecting with Velus Jones for a 15-yard touchdown to make it 28-23 Tennessee.
Another touchdown pass from O’Connell and a field goal by UT kicker Chase McGrath saw the game at 31-30 after three quarters. The crowd was electric and so loud you could barely hear yourself talking. It has been some years since LP Filed has seen or heard a crowd so into the Music City Bowl.
If they thought this was exciting football, the fourth quarter would keep everybody in the stands and on televisions at home on the edge of their seats. It would turn into a one team scores and the other answers type of finish. It began with another O’Connel to Durham pass of 62 yards down the right side of the field and a two-point conversion to make it 38-31 Purdue. On the play, Durham appeared to be going down but Vol defenders did a poor job of tackling and O’Connell stayed on his feet for the score.
Not to be outdone, Hooker connected with Tillman for the third time and we were tied at 38 with 3:37 to go in the game. The drive began with Smalls taking a handoff and going 60 yards to set up first and goal at the Purdue five. It was so loud in the stadium and the crowd was in for one heck of a finish. Purdue took over at their own 25 and in just three plays made it 45-38 on O’Connell’s strike to Broc Thompson with 2:57 to play.
Tennessee would answer and answer quickly. A four-play 72-yard drive ended with Jalin Hyatt catching a two-yard pass from Hooker for the score that tied the game at 45 with 1:35 left. Purdue would follow up with a punt and the Vols would turn it over on downs and just like that, we were going to overtime.
Tennessee got the ball first and drove it down to the one-yard line. It was fourth down and decision time. Would they go for the sure field goal or go for the touchdown? Heupel decided to go for six and Jaylen Wright took the ball to the right side. He would be met by two defenders and got wrapped up. But he kept driving his legs and would stay on his feet long enough to lean the ball over the goal line for what appeared to be a Vols touchdown. The score was denied when it was ruled that the play was whistled dead because the ref said Purdue stopped Wright’s forward progress.
From there it was the icing on the cake for the Boilermakers. They ran three plays and Fineran would kick his fourth field goal of the game for the 48-45 win.
- Aidan O’Connell had the game of his life going 26-47 for 534 yards, five touchdown passes, and three interceptions. He summed up the action very well after the game. “It’s why you love the game, it’s why it keeps bringing you back,” O’Connell said. “The fact it’s unknown. No one knows what’s going to happen. It’s not a movie or TV show where the actors get retries. It seems like the world’s watching and anything could happen.”
- His WR, Broc Thompson, would finish the game with seven catches for 217 yards and two scores. Durham would chip in five catches for 85 yards and two scores as well.
- For Tennessee, Hooker would go 26-41 for 378 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions. When he gets a chance to look at the film he will see the many passes that he overthrew. Some of those passes would have been easy touchdowns that could have swung the game much earlier for Tennessee. On some of those passes, his receiver was one side of the field while the pass was thrown the other way. It will be something Hooker will look to improve on going into next season.
- Jabari Smalls had a career game with 26 carries for 180 yards and a touchdown. The Vols running game would total 288 yards on the ground to help out Hoooker.
- Cedric Tillman has made major strides this season. He went from just a receiver to the go-to guy and in this game, he would finish with seven catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns. Jones would chip in with 10 catches of his own for 85 yards and a score.
- Both teams would combine for 1293 yards of offense. They would score two touchdowns apiece in those incredible final five minutes of regulation.
- The Vola were flagged 14 times for 128 yards. Several of those penalties kept Purdue drives alive and set up scoring opportunities.
It is something when you see a game full of so much offense only to have the game decided by the Purdue goal-line stand in overtime.