Purdue wide receiver Broc Thompson (29) catches a pass as Tennessee defensive back De'Shawn Rucker (28) defends at the 2021 Music City Bowl NCAA college football game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. on Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021.

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Purdue nips Tennessee in OT, wins high-scoring Music City Bowl

Aidan O’Connell threw for 534 yards and five touchdowns and Mitchell Fineran kicked a 38-yard field goal in overtime as Purdue nipped Tennessee 48-45 on Thursday in a thrilling Music City Bowl in Nashville.

In a game where the teams combined for 1,290 total yards, the Boilermakers (9-4) got the last laugh against the Volunteers (7-6) thanks to a dynamic passing attack. O’Connell found Broc Thompson seven times for 217 yards and two touchdowns, while Payne Durham collected five catches for 85 yards and two scores.

Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker matched O’Connell with five TD passes and threw for 378 yards without an interception. Cedric Tillman registered seven catches for 150 yards and three touchdowns, Velus Jones Jr. had 10 catches for 85 yards and a score, and Jabari Small ran for 180 yards and a touchdown for the Volunteers.

Tennessee got the ball first in overtime and went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1. However, Jaylen Wright was stood up at the goal line and the whistle blew before he was able to reach the ball across. That gave Purdue a chance to win, and Fineran snuck his kick inside the left upright.

The teams combined for four touchdowns in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.

O’Connell began the wild sequence by throwing a pass to Durham, who spun away from three defenders, stayed inbounds and bolted for a 62-yard touchdown. The duo connected on the ensuing two-point conversion to give the Boilermakers a 38-31 lead.

However, the Volunteers tied it less than 1 1/2 minutes later. Small’s 60-yard run set up Hooker’s TD pass to Tillman on fourth-and-goal from the 13.

That deadlock lasted only 40 seconds, as O’Connell hit Thompson for a 70-yard go-ahead score with 2:57 to play. But Hooker and Princeton Fant quickly hooked up on a 58-yard completion to set up Hooker’s game-tying 2-yard TD strike to Jalin Hyatt with 1:35 remaining.

Each team had one more possession in regulation, but Purdue punted on its trip and Tennessee’s 56-yard field goal came up short.

The Boilermakers led 23-21 at the break before the teams jockeyed back and forth in the third quarter.

Tennessee regained the lead on Jones’ 15-yard catch-and-run, and then O’Connell and TJ Sheffield connected on a stellar 10-yard pitch-and-catch into the end zone to put Purdue back in front, 30-28. Chase McGrath’s 30-yard field goal flipped the scoreboard once again, giving the Volunteers a 31-30 edge at the end of three quarters.

–Field Level Media

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (5) looks to pass as Tennessee offensive lineman Jerome Carvin (75) defends against Kentucky defensive end Josh Paschal (4) during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.

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Tennessee hangs on to beat No. 18 Kentucky

Hendon Hooker threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night as Tennessee made the most of its limited opportunities, upsetting No. 18 Kentucky 45-42 in Lexington, Ky.

Hooker completed 15 of 20 passes for the Volunteers (5-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference), including a 6-yard scoring strike to Cedric Tillman with 11:40 left that gave them a 45-35 lead. The Wildcats (6-3, 4-3) pulled within three points when Will Levis hit Izayah Cummings with a 24-yard touchdown pass just over two minutes later.

But Kentucky’s last chance to win went begging with 29 seconds remaining when Levis’ 4th-and-10 pass from the Tennessee 38 sailed over the head of his intended receiver. It was the Wildcats’ third straight loss.

Levis completed 31 of 49 passes for 372 yards with three touchdowns and an interception that Alontae Taylor took 56 yards for a third quarter touchdown. Wan’Dale Robinson caught 13 passes for 166 yards while Chris Rodriguez rushed 22 times for 109 yards.

Kentucky lost despite enjoying incredible discrepancies in number of plays and time of possessions. It ran 99 plays to the Volunteers’ 47, enabling it to control the ball for a whopping 46:08, and finished the game with 612 total yards to Tennessee’s 461.

Tennessee took the lead 11 seconds into the game when Hooker and JaVonta Payton hooked up for a 75-yard touchdown pass. Kentucky equalized on its first drive, using up more than 8 1/2 minutes before Kavosiey Smoke rushed for a 9-yard touchdown.

That set the game’s tone — the Volunteers score in a hurry and the Wildcats answer by eating up clock before hitting the end zone. Hooker made it 14-7 26 seconds after Smoke scored, hitting Velus Jones for a 72-yard touchdown.

Levis gave Kentucky a 21-14 second quarter lead with an 8-yard touchdown run and a 3-yard scoring strike to Justin Rigg. But Tennessee rallied to grab a 24-21 halftime lead on Hooker’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Warren and Chase McGrath’s 43-yard field goal.

–Field Level Media

Florida Gators running back Malik Davis (20) runs the ball during the football game between the Florida Gators and The Alabama Crimson Tide, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Sept. 18, 2021.

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Tennessee looks for elusive win vs. No. 11 Florida

Once upon a time, a Tennessee-Florida football game was not just a main event in the Southeastern Conference’s East Division, but in the country.

Now it’s just another game for these programs. It’s been made that way by Alabama’s dominant 13-year run and Tennessee’s stunning fall from being a national power to its conference’s version of Miami or Texas, a team badly in need of something good to happen sooner instead of later.

The Volunteers (2-1, 0-0 SEC) will have that chance Saturday night in Gainesville, Fla., albeit against a program they’ve beaten once since 2005. Tennessee will have to come up with something special to pick up the first big win of the Josh Heupel era.

“We’ve got to do the ordinary at a really high level in a big game like this against a really good football team,” Heupel said.

The 11th-ranked Gators (2-1, 0-1) distinguished themselves far more in last week’s 31-29 defeat at home against No. 1 Alabama than in non-conference walkovers against Florida Atlantic and South Florida.

Florida was the more physical football team for long stretches, rolling up 245 yards on the ground and nearly overcoming a 21-3 deficit in the first quarter. But the Gators were unable to convert a game-tying 2-point run with 3:41 left and couldn’t get the ball back until just four seconds remained.

While the consensus among college football experts was that Florida proved its chops despite losing, coach Dan Mullen said his players weren’t celebrating making a good showing by any means.

“Our guys expected to win the game, to be perfectly honest with you,” he said. “I mean, they’re pretty disappointed that they didn’t. There wasn’t much praise or happiness or smiles (Monday) morning in the team meeting.

“There’s some positive things that we can take out of it, and there are things that we need to get corrected. It’s making sure we embrace that. Let’s actually build off what we did well and do it even better.”

The Gators’ showing in the trenches drew lots of attention. The last time the Crimson Tide was pushed around that consistently on the defensive line, coach Nick Saban was trying to figure out a way to win with the Miami Dolphins in 2006.

Malik Davis rushed for a game-high 86 yards on just 10 carries, while quarterback Emory Jones added 77 yards on 19 attempts. But he also tossed his fifth interception in three games that was quickly turned into one of Alabama’s three first-quarter touchdowns.

Jones was 18 of 28 in the air for 195 yards, playing the entire game with backup Anthony Richardson (hamstring) sidelined. Mullen said Richardson could return this week.

The quarterback position is also a question for the Volunteers. Starter Joe Milton sat out a 56-0 rout of FCS foe Tennessee Tech last week with a leg injury. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker played efficiently, completing 17 of 25 passes for 199 yards and three scores while adding 64 yards and a score on the ground.

Heupel said Milton would get work in practice Tuesday or Wednesday.

“We’ll see where we are at at that point, as far as whether he’ll be able to play or not,” the coach said.
Tennessee is averaging 42.7 points, but this will be its first road game. And it will be in a venue where it hasn’t won since 2003.

–Field Level Media

Jan 2, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA;  Tennessee Volunteers head coach Jeremy Pruitt watches his team stretch out before the game against the Indiana Hoosiers in the 2020 Taxslayer Gator Bowl at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

No. 21 Tennessee looks to keep rolling vs. Missouri

No. 21 Tennessee takes the Southeastern Conference’s longest winning streak into Saturday’s home opener against Missouri in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Volunteers (1-0, 1-0 SEC) built off last year’s season-ending six-game winning streak by eking past South Carolina 31-27 on the road last Saturday in their 2020 opener.

Third-year coach Jeremy Pruitt has a veteran squad, including senior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, but wants to see more efficiency after his team went 1-for-11 on third-down conversions against the Gamecocks.

“Something that has got to be addressed,” Pruitt said. “We have to be able to finish blocks and have to understand the down and distance as a running back. … But we did create explosive plays on offense; there’s times when we moved the ball at will, but we have to make some consistency there.”

Missouri (0-1, 0-1) didn’t generate much on offense in its Saturday opener against Alabama — a 38-19 home loss — until it was too late. The Tigers scored 16 points in about the final 16 minutes, including a final-play touchdown, after falling behind 35-3.

Missouri wants to play fast under first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz, who mostly went with quarterback Shawn Robinson, a dual threat who started eight games at TCU before sitting out last season as a transfer.

Robinson completed 19 of 25 passes for 185 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions, posting the best completion percentage (76.0) for a Missouri quarterback in his debut since Blaine Gabbert (75.8) in 2009. Redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak played late and went 7 of 14 for 68 yards.

“I’m comfortable playing multiple (quarterbacks) meaningful snaps throughout the season,” said Drinkwitz, who also calls plays and serves as offensive coordinator.

“I don’t think this is going to be a typical season like we’ve ever had before. I just think we have enough data to think that we’re (not) going be able to go through the entire season with one quarterback.”

Drinkwitz, who went 12-1 in his one season as head coach at Appalachian State in 2019 while Mizzou went 6-6, also has an SEC stalwart in running back Larry Rountree III. The senior enters the game with 2,815 career rushing yards — 5.1 per attempt — and 26 touchdowns.

Tennessee’s running game is led by senior Ty Chandler, the team’s top rusher in each of the past two seasons. He gained 86 yards on 13 carries versus South Carolina.

Sophomore Eric Gray is a talented tag-team partner running behind one of the best offensive lines in the SEC.

Tennessee’s defensive star in Week 1 was senior edge rusher Deandre Johnson, who earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after making 2.5 sacks and forcing a fumble.

Tennessee can’t afford a stumble here as it goes for eight in a row. After this game, the Vols play four teams in six weeks that are in the current top 13 of the AP poll — Georgia, Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn.

“We’re 1-0 and the way I look at it, I count all of the games that you play as losses, so I say right now we’re 1-9,” Pruitt said. “We’ve got a lot of things that we need to work on, but we’ve got a lot of time to do it. This team, their identity, how they’re going to be remembered, they’ve got nine weeks to decide that. It will be up to them.”

–Field Level Media