A nearly five hour game in Nashville turned out to be one of the most entertaining bowl games so far this season, with a bit of controversy as well. Tennessee and Purdue faced off this afternoon, both looking to capitalize on their offensive firepower.
Who knew this game would give us one of the wackiest fourth quarters we've witnessed all season, which consisted of Purdue cashing in on one of the craziest touchdowns we've seen this season. But that play was in the middle of a wild five minutes that won't be forgotten, as both teams combined for 406 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter and four touchdowns.
It was one of the wildest finished I've seen this season, period. But we weren't done, as the Vols missed a 56-yard field goal to win it in the final seconds. Tennessee's Josh Heupel talked about the play postgame, mentioning the coaches and kicker were confident in the yardage.
"Right on the edge there. Coach Ekeler believed in it. Chase did too. He wanted to go and drain it."
As we headed to the first overtime, everyone inside Nissan Stadium probably thought they had seen it all, but they were in for a crazy treat. Tennessee was on offense first and decided to go for it on fourth down, the first time, which Hooker gained. But it was the second 4th down attempt that caused controversy in Nashville, as Vols running back Jaylen Wright reached the ball over the goal line. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the referees called "forward momentum," even though the official did not blow his whistle until after the ball crossed the line.
“It sounded like the whistle blew after he extended the football," Josh Heupel said postgame.
After this crazy situation, which Tennessee shouldn't have been in to begin with, Purdue kicked a game-winning field goal to win the game in overtime, 48-45.
This game should've been won in regulation by Tennessee, but they gave up two touchdowns due to bad tackling and a busted coverage. But you have to credit Purdue for finding a way to win, as Aidan O'Connell passed for 534 yards and 5 touchdowns, along with 3 interceptions. The most gutsy performance of the day goes to WR Broc Thompson, who had 217 yards receiving, along with 2 touchdowns. Thompson had the most yards receiving against a Tennessee defense in its history, adding to the misery of the Vols.
For the Vols offense, it was hit and miss, even with Hendon Hooker throwing for 378 yards and 5 touchdowns. There were times where the Vols quarterback mishandled snaps, overthrew receivers and just looked different than the guy Tennessee fans have seen over the course of the season. On the flip side, WR Cedric Tillman continued to bring the heat, catching 7 passes for 150 yards and 3 touchdowns. Tillman will be returning next season and his performance should give fans a bit of hope at the position that is losing key contributors Velus Jones Jr. and JaVonta Payton.
"Completely out of the ordinary, in the second quarter we just didn't execute," Josh Heupel added after the game. "Not taking away anything from Purdue, but we just weren't good in the second quarter."
The Vols had 663 yards of total offense, while Purdue racked up 627 yards. The lack of pressure and downfield coverage led to the Boilermakers playing pitch and catch on the Vols secondary at times.
But overall, the Vols had multiple opportunities to win this football game, but the defense continued to struggle, while the offense bailed them out numerous times. Whether it be lack of tackling or the defensive line not getting enough pressure on the quarterback, this unit has seen better days.
There were times where the Vols looked dead, after Purdue scored multiple gut punching touchdowns, but running back Jabari Small kept grinding. Finishing the day with 180 yards rushing and 1 touchdown, Small was key in giving the Vols an opportunity to tie the game up late.
"Disappointed in the result but the journey has been unbelievable," Heupel said about the season. "Disappointed for our fans… Man, the passion of our fan base isn’t surpassed anywhere else in college football. Through the bowl season, but really, all season long."
In the end, this Tennessee season was more successful than most experts predicted. After finishing with seven wins, this team will carry momentum into the offseason, even with the loss. The return of Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman should will benefit the offense, while the defensive unit will look to grow, while having to replace some veteran players, like Matthew Butler.
But, as this crazy game came to an end and Josh Heupel sat at the podium, next to Cedric Tillman, he was grateful for the effort this team gave the staff, through all the adversity.
"The journey is way more important than the destination in some respects."