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Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O'Connell (16) looks to throw the football. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)
December 27th, 2021
A pair of high-scoring teams will square off in the Music City Bowl when Tennessee and Purdue clash on Thursday, Dec. 30. The matchup features one of the highest Over/Under totals (64 points) among all bowl games.
Purdue had its best season under fifth-year coach Jeff Brohm, finishing in the middle of the Big Ten West at 8-4. The Boilermakers feature the nation’s eighth-best passing offense (340.4 yards per game).
Under first-year coach Josh Heupel, Tennessee improved from the 108th-ranked scoring offense in 2020 to eighth in 2021, averaging nearly 40 points per game. The Volunteers placed third in the SEC East at 7-5, and logged 459 yards of total offense per game (15th in the nation).
Following a couple of lean years in which they won only six games, Purdue turned things around behind fifth-year senior quarterback Aidan O'Connell (73.5% completion rate). The Boilermakers were competitive in every game (except against Ohio State), as they upset three conference rivals during the season, including Iowa and Michigan State when both programs were ranked in the top five.
How did Aidan O'Connell escape the pass rush here? 🤯For real, check it out ⤵️. pic.twitter.com/cvG8tnqCpp— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 6, 2021
How did Aidan O'Connell escape the pass rush here? 🤯For real, check it out ⤵️. pic.twitter.com/cvG8tnqCpp
O’Connell finished the year strong. After tossing eight interceptions in his first seven games, the former walk-on threw 16 touchdowns and no interceptions as Purdue covered in four of its final five games.
The Boilermakers will miss Big Ten Receiver of the Year David Bell, who is skipping the bowl before the 2022 NFL Draft.
Purdue has the edge defensively over Tennessee. Excluding the Ohio State loss, Purdue surrendered only 17.4 points per game in eight Big Ten games, but they must replace projected first-round defensive end pick George Karlaftis, who also opted out of the bowl.
After yet another coaching change in the offseason, Tennessee made the right hire in Heupel. His offense lacked cohesion early on, but discovered its footing when switching to Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker in Week 5.
Hendon Hooker: 134.5 Passer Rating while under pressureBest in college football 🔥pic.twitter.com/6voNMVD6MB— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 28, 2021
Hendon Hooker: 134.5 Passer Rating while under pressureBest in college football 🔥pic.twitter.com/6voNMVD6MB
The Volunteers improved over the final two months of the season behind the dual threat QB, as Hooker averaged more than 260 yards of offense per game. He threw 26 touchdowns, and only three interceptions, and Tennessee stretches the field behind a pair of dynamic receiving threats in Velus Jones Jr. and Cedric Tillman. They also feature a top 20 rushing attack, averaging 211.5 yards on the ground per game.
Defense is a major liability, as the Volunteers’ young secondary ranked among the nation’s worst.
Tennessee did outscore three of the final four opponents, including a 45-42 victory at SEC East runner-up Kentucky, and their only losses over the final two months of the season came against teams with a combined 34-4 record (Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi).
Given Tennessee’s defensive woes, Purdue’s high-scoring offense has some appeal in the underdog role. However, the personnel losses of Bell and Karlaftis will be difficult to overcome. Especially Bell, who served as a catalyst catching 93 passes for 1,286 yards this season.
It's tough to envision Purdue matching points with Tennessee, which scored more than 51 per game in the last five wins, and the Volunteers’ juggernaut attack will eventually prove too much.
Our predictive engine is calling for Tennessee to win outright.
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