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Tennessee heads west on I-40 to play in front of an expected partisan crowd in Nashville on Dec. 30, when the Volunteers take on Purdue in the Music City Bowl.

The Volunteers (7-5) wrapped up the regular season by winning three of their final four games, with their only loss in that span coming against then-No. 1 Georgia. Tennessee scored at least 45 points in each of its final six victories, and it scored at least 38 points in every win this year.

Volunteers quarterback Hendon Hooker has enjoyed a splendid season, throwing 26 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He has completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,567 yards, and he has produced 561 yards and five scores on the ground.

“(He’s a) great leader and I just believe that he is still becoming the best version of himself as a player,” first-year Volunteers coach Josh Heupel said.

Jabari Small (612 yards, eight TDs) highlights the Tennessee backfield contingent, while Cedric Tillman leads the team in catches (57), receiving yards (931) and TD grabs (nine).

On the other side of the ball, linebacker Jeremy Banks had by far the most tackles on the team (108) and ranks third on the squad with 4.5 sacks. Defensive back Alontae Taylor, who nursed a foot injury in recent weeks, is skipping the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.

The Volunteers’ secondary would have needed all the help it could get against Boilermakers wideout David Bell, who was named a first-team All-American after posting 1,286 receiving yards — 21 shy of the school record — on 93 receptions. However, Bell decided to skip the bowl game to protect his NFL draft stock.

Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis will sit out the bowl game as well.

“I understand the position they’re in,” Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm said. “With all of our players, we want to communicate what we think. Obviously, they hear other opinions and other sides of the story and then they weigh that and do what’s best for them.

“But we’re gonna support both those guys. They’ve done a tremendous job for us. Great ambassadors of the program, performed at a high level and really have a bright future.”

Aidan O’Connell (73.5 completion percentage, 23 TDs, eight INTs) threw 16 touchdowns and no picks over the past five games, during which Purdue went 4-1. The Boilermakers (8-4) don’t get much help from their rushing attack, as seven of their top eight runners average 4.0 yards per carry or less. Only Bell, with just three carries for 39 yards this season, comes in north of that figure.

Jaylan Alexander leads Purdue with 94 tackles, while Kydran Jenkins has a team-leading five sacks. Karlaftis, who might be a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft, had 4.5 sacks.

The Volunteers are appearing in the Music City Bowl for the third time. They lost to North Carolina in double overtime in 2010 before defeating Nebraska six years later. That victory over the Cornhuskers is part of Tennessee’s current four-game winning streak in bowl games.

Purdue, meanwhile, has earned only one bowl victory since 2011. The Boilermakers’ most recent bowl appearance came in this event in 2018, when they were trounced by Auburn 63-14.

The only prior matchup between Tennessee and Purdue came in the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl, which the Boilermakers won 27-22.

–Field Level Media