Dan Fleser: In-State Bowl To Help Vols Continue Momentum

Sunday, December 5, 2021 - by Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Tennessee got a destination and an opponent to complete its postseason schedule for December.

At some point during Sunday afternoon’s college football extravaganza, a marathon that lasted longer than “Gone with the Wind,” the Vols received their bowl game marching orders. They will face Purdue in the Music City Bowl at 3 p.m. on Dec. 30 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

 

The Vols already had the rest of their month planned out, not in terms of every detail but definitely with respect to an overarching objective.

 

“Continue to build the foundation of who we are and what we’re going to be as a football program,” UT coach Josh Heupel said following a 45-21 victory over Vanderbilt on Nov.

27 to conclude the regular season.

 

“These guys have grown in understanding the accountability aspect. But just the football side of it, a great opportunity to continue to grow throughout the course of December.”

 

Heupel doubled down on the sentiment in UT’s release announcing the bowl matchup, saying: “It’s a great opportunity for us to put the finishing touches on the positive momentum we have created over our first 11 months. I am especially thrilled for our seniors, who get one more chance to compete.”

 

For Heupel, the benefits of having an extra month with this team are both personal and professional in nature.

 

On a personal level, he’s been clear about the respect he has for these players, how they’ve worked and competed throughout the season. Regardless of any uncertainty or skepticism regarding Heupel and his staff at the outset, they rallied around his leadership. In doing so, the players have left their mark on him.

 

“These guys have been phenomenal,” he said. “So appreciative of them. Love being with them.”

 

Now Heupel gets an extra month to return the favor. Along with loving the opportunity, he’s also relieved. He had checked the university’s academic calendar and noted the spring semester doesn’t begin until Jan. 24.

 

“As late as we start our second semester here in January, you’re talking almost two months where your players are gone from you; that’s not good,” he said.

 

Along with conditioning, the extra practices will enable the Vols to work with their younger players.

 

“As thin as we were (depth-wise),” Heupel said, “some of our younger players got less opportunity for developmental practices than we’ve ever had inside my program.”

 

After the Vanderbilt game, the coach mentioned first-year offensive lineman Jeremiah Crawford, who helped shore up Tennessee’s injury-depleted line against the Commodores. Heupel also referenced freshman Miles Campbell, who saw his first action last Saturday since Oct. 9 against South Carolina.

 

There will be at least one opening in Tennessee’s bowl game lineup for someone either young or old to fill. Cornerback Alontae Taylor announced on social media Thursday that he would forgo Tennessee’s bowl game to get healthy for the NFL Draft.

 

Taylor said he played the final two regular season games with an injury.

 

- Tennessee's only other game against Purdue was a 27-22 loss in the 1979 Bluebonnet Bowl, which was played at the Houston Astrodome. This meeting will be Tennessee’s 54th all-time bowl appearance, which ranks fifth nationally.   

 

* * *

 

Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at ddanfleser3@gmail.com.

 


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