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Front Page - Friday, December 10, 2021

UT Football: Lampley, Vols grateful for Music City Bowl invitation

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker earned the starting job in mid-September and has gone on to be named one of 20 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. - Photo by Jerry Denham |The Ledger

Tennessee fans won’t have to travel very far to watch the Vols play in a bowl game.

In the first season under head coach Josh Heupel, Tennessee (7-5, 4-4 SEC) was selected to participate in the Music City Bowl against Purdue (8-4, 6-3 Big Ten) Dec. 30, 3 p.m. EST, at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

The Vols will be making their third appearance in the Music City Bowl. Tennessee defeated Nebraska in 2016 and lost to North Carolina in 2010. Purdue is appearing for the second time, having lost to Auburn 63-14 in 2018.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to put the finishing touches on the positive momentum we have created over our first 11 months,” Heupel says. “I am especially thrilled for our seniors, who get one more chance to compete. Purdue is an outstanding and well-coached team. I look forward to seeing all of Vol Nation in Nashville.”

Tennessee and Purdue will be meeting for the second time and first since the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl, where Purdue beat the Vols 27-22 to finish the season with their most wins in program history (10-2).

“Playing in a game like the Music City Bowl, in the great city of Nashville, is a reward for our team after the season we had,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm acknowledges. “We are excited about the opportunity to compete, especially in an NFL stadium, against a very good Tennessee team. Our guys are looking forward to the challenge.”

One Vol family is thrilled with UT’s Music City invitation. Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Jackson Lampley is from Nashville and starred at Montgomery Bell Academy. His father, Brad, played offensive line for the Vols during the Peyton Manning era and has been on the board for the Music City Bowl for the last 20 years.

After the bowl matchup was revealed, Brad Lampley called it the “most special of all, for obvious reasons” while Jackson Lampley tweeted: “Happy to be home, I’ve missed playing football in the 615.”

Heupel is the fifth UT coach in the past 70 years to lead the Vols to a bowl game in his debut season. It will be UT’s 54th all-time bowl appearance, which ranks fifth nationally. UT has won its last four bowl appearances, the most recent being a one-point win against Indiana in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl in 2019.

Purdue is in the midst of its best season in 15 years. The Boilermakers registered their most wins in a regular season since 2006. The program will be making its 20th bowl appearance, and third in the last five seasons under Brohm. Purdue is 10-9 all-time in bowl games.

Both programs feature productive offensive attacks that could light up the scoreboard inside Nissan Stadium.

Led by senior quarterback Hendon Hooker, Tennessee finished in the top 25 nationally in total offense (459.0 yards per game), scoring offense (38.8 points per game) and rushing offense (212.0). The Vols have the second-highest point per game total in modern school history, behind only the 1993 team (42.8 ppg).

Purdue’s passing offense ranks eighth in the country (340.4 yards per game). Big Ten Receiver of the Year David Bell ranks second in the country in catches per game (8.5) and fourth in receiving yards per game (116.9). Fifth-year senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell is completing 73.5% of his passes, which leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally.

Tennessee will be without senior defensive back Alontae Taylor, who announced last week he would be skipping the bowl to recover from an injury and begin preparing for the NFL Draft. Taylor has accepted an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl, an annual showcase game for the draft.

More players from both teams could be following Taylor’s lead before the game kicks off, a trend that has accelerated over the years as draft prospects try to protect themselves from potential injury and get a jump-start on training for their future in the NFL.

Although some Tennessee fans prefer traveling to a bowl game destination out of state for more of a vacation feel, the Vols are hoping their fans outnumber any Purdue fans seeking to make Nashville into their own getaway.

“There is extraordinary love and support for the Vols in and around Nashville, and it will be incredible to see Big Orange fans from all across the country converge in the Midstate to celebrate our football team during bowl week,” UT athletic director Danny White says. “We’re all incredibly proud of our football student-athletes, coaches and staff for earning this postseason opportunity.”