Vols lose to Purdue in overtime at Music City Bowl

AP photo by Mark Humphrey / Purdue and Tennessee play in Nissan Stadium during the second half of the Music City Bowl on Thursday in Nashville.
AP photo by Mark Humphrey / Purdue and Tennessee play in Nissan Stadium during the second half of the Music City Bowl on Thursday in Nashville.

NASHVILLE - Thursday's Music City Bowl between Purdue and Tennessee contained 1,293 combined yards of total offense.

It was the yard that didn't count that could linger with the Volunteers for a while.

Moments before Mitchell Fineran's 39-yard field goal catapulted the Boilermakers to a 48-45 overtime victory before 69,489 emotionally spent fans inside Nissan Stadium, the Vols had their possession of the extra period ruled down at Purdue's 1-yard line. Tennessee freshman running back Jaylen Wright was initially stuffed after getting the handoff from Hendon Hooker, but Wright kept moving and was able to stretch the ball over the goal line before his knees touched the ground.

"Initially, I was excited," Hooker said. "I thought we scored. It was a tough call."

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel was told by officials that Wright's forward progress had been stopped, but he solemnly added, "The whistle blew after he had extended the football."

(READ MORE: Wiedmer: Even with Jaylen Wright's touchdown ruled wrong, Vols had a great season)

The result saddled the Vols with a 7-6 record, while Purdue clinched its first 9-4 season since 2003. Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm said the result of the 2018 Music City Bowl, a 63-14 loss to Auburn in a game the Tigers led 56-7 at halftime, served as motivation for this trip.

"This was a big bowl game to us," Brohm said. "It was a crazy game with a lot of big plays."

The first quarter alone contained a 41-yard touchdown pass from Hooker to Cedric Tillman, a 75-yard scoring strike from Purdue's Aidan O'Connell to Broc Thompson and another Hooker to Tillman score, this one from 61 yards. It would be topped by a fourth quarter in which O'Connell had touchdown tosses of 62 yards to Payne Durham and 70 yards to Thompson, while Hooker and Tillman connected from 13 yards on fourth-and-goal.

Tennessee did collect three interceptions in the ESPN-televised contest, but O'Connell wound up with 534 aerial yards and five touchdowns, with Thompson named MVP after making seven catches for 217 yards and two scores.

"They didn't run anything that we hadn't seen on film," Vols fifth-year senior safety Theo Jackson said. "We just didn't execute when we needed to. I know that they had guys out and we had guys out, but their guys stepped up and made more plays than we did.

"They ran good routes. They caught the ball. They made some very, very tough catches, and they were efficient."

Hooker completed 26 of 41 passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns, which set a Tennessee bowl record, while Tillman set a program bowl standard as well with three receiving scores as part of his seven catches for 150 yards. In the bigger picture, this year's Vols became the first in school history to surpass 500 points in a season, finishing with 511.

The previous mark of 484 was set in 1993 during Phillip Fulmer's first year at the helm.

"I'm disappointed with the result, but the journey has been unbelievable," Heupel said. "When we took over this program 11 months ago and where it was to where it is today are two completely - I'm just proud of these guys for coming so far."

In addition to Wright's yard that wasn't and the defensive inability to solve the pass-happy Boilermakers were Tennessee's excessive penalties. The Vols were flagged for 134 penalty yards in their first nonconference loss of the season, 41-34 against Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, and they had 14 for 128 yards on Thursday.

Purdue, by comparison, had five penalties for 61 yards.

"At the end of the day, you can't control what yellow hankies come out and when they do and when they don't," Heupel said. "You line up and play ball. There are some things that I probably don't agree with, and I think everybody knows that, but I think it's important for us as players and coaches to look at the things that we can control to better change the outcome of a game."

Tennessee will not suit up again until Sept. 3, 2022, when the Vols host Ball State in the opener of Heupel's second season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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