Focused Vols looking to “finish strong” in Music City Bowl

Published 10:38 pm Monday, December 27, 2021

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NASHVILLE – With game day quickly approaching, Tennessee has been focused and locked in as it looks to finish the 2021 season off the right way.After Monday’s practice at Vanderbilt Stadium, multiple players emphasized that the team is taking Thursday’s contest against Purdue very seriously and that finishing the season with a win would be big heading into the offseason.

“I think it’s a big deal, just so people can get a glimpse of what we can be next year and starting off on the right foot for 2022,” sophomore running back Jabari Small said. “It’s just important, finishing off strong, just finishing what we started.”

Senior offensive lineman Jerome Carvin feels that the Big Orange have a chance to make a statement with a victory over an extremely talented Boilermakers team.”It’s like a statement game if that makes sense,” Carvin said. “We have to show what we can do, especially with this offense and the team that we’re playing against. We are playing a really good Big 10 team. It’s a statement game.”

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Despite the long layoff between games, the Vols aren’t too concerned with the potential for rust on the offensive side of the ball heading into Thursday’s game.

“Not at all,” redshirt junior wideout Cedric Tillman said when asked if there were any concerns about rust heading into Thursday’s game. “We’ve been doing this for so long and we’ve still been practicing, and I think we’ll be fine.”

A big part of UT’s offensive success this season has been the chemistry between Tillman and quarterback Hendon Hooker. The dynamic duo has been deadly down the stretch with Tillman putting up three straight 100-yard games and six consecutive games with a touchdown catch to finish the regular season.

The Las Vegas native enters Thursday’s contest needing just 69 yards to become Tennessee’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Justin Hunter in 2012. Tillman acknowledged that reaching the 1,000-yard mark would be a significant accomplishment for him, but that helping the team win the game is the top priority.

“Honestly, it would mean a lot,” Tillman said. “It’s something that I really worked for this year and like I said, I’m going to do everything in my power to go get it, but also help my team win the game. So, if me getting 1,000 yards helps us win the game, I’ll be happy with that, if not and I got to do other stuff, then I’m cool with that too.”

Over the past few weeks, both Hooker and Tillman have announced their intentions to return to play for the Big Orange next season, which has their teammates extremely excited.

“It means a lot. It’s a lot of leadership and experience. They’re veterans. We can only get better,” Small said. “They’ll hold us to a standard, and we will try to follow that. Those guys are extremely talented, have bright futures and could make a lot of money one day, so the fact that they want to come back means a lot.”

Carvin attributes the environment that been cultivated by head coach Josh Heupel and his staff as a big reason for guys wanting to return for one more season on Rocky Top.

“It has to do with this staff, the culture, the locker room, just playing with our brothers again, our teammates,” Carvin said. “I’ve been a part of some rough times since I’ve been here, but we’ve got a bright future ahead of us and there’s a lot of things we can do.”

Kickoff for UT and Purdue is 2 p.m. CT on Dec. 30 in Nissan Stadium. Tickets for the game are on sale through the bowl at