Tennessee Football

Tennessee football knows its bowl destination and opponent. Now it needs a plan.

The Vols (7-5) will play Purdue (8-4) in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. 

UT players are off this week for final exams, and coaches are on the road recruiting. Bowl practice will begin Saturday.

BOWL BID: Tennessee to play Purdue in Music City Bowl

SCOUTING REPORT: Score prediction and what to know about Purdue

WHAT TO KNOW: Tickets, parking information for Music City Bowl

Here are three things the Vols must do over the next three weeks to prepare for the Music City Bowl.

Balance recruiting, transfers with bowl prep

What happens in recruiting over the next week could have a deeper impact on the UT program than winning the Music City Bowl, but they both carry importance. Striking the right balance is a challenge for every program, but especially the Vols.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel and his staff are trying to close strong on their first recruiting class, which ranks No. 21 in 247Sports Composite, before the early signing period begins Dec. 15. Plus, UT should be active in the transfer portal to add key players for immediate impact on the 2022 team.

The coaches must focus on bowl preparation while managing the future roster. It’s not easy. Heupel has a 1-2 record as a coach in bowl games at Central Florida. He beat Marshall in the 2019 Gasparilla Bowl and lost to LSU in the 2018 Fiesta Bowl and BYU in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl. 

Find out Hendon Hooker’s decision, at least privately

Decisions related to the transfer portal will be a lot easier once quarterback Hendon Hooker tells Heupel whether he’s returning in 2022. The deadline to declare for the NFL Draft is Jan. 17, but UT needs to know sooner than later.

If Hooker leaves, UT should look for a starting quarterback in the transfer portal. It may still add a quarterback, even if he returns. But his decision carries weight.

Hooker doesn’t need to announce his plans publicly. But rest assured, Heupel will need to know privately which way he’s leaning.

Adjust lineup for missing player(s)

Cornerback Alontae Taylor already has announced he will forgo the bowl to recover from a foot injury and train for NFL Draft workouts. Offensive lineman Cade Mays, another draft prospect, has not announced whether he will play in the bowl. But he is recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined him almost all the past two games.

Kenneth George Jr., Auburn transfer Kamal Hadden and Alabama transfer Brandon Turnage are among the possible replacements for Taylor. George has exhausted his eligibility, so this will be his last game. Turnage and Hadden could start at various spots in the secondary next season, so this could provide valuable experience.

Taylor’s absence could be critical. Purdue touts the No. 8 passing offense in FBS, led by quarterback Aidan O’Connell and Biletnikoff Award finalist receiver David Bell.

Dayne Davis and Jeremiah Crawford are the likely replacements for Mays at right tackle. Davis started there against Alabama and Vanderbilt. Crawford, a junior college transfer, got his most work at right tackle against Vanderbilt. Both could compete for the starting job next season if Mays goes to the NFL, which appears likely.

Reach Adam Sparks at adam.sparks@knoxnews.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

Source : https://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/college/university-of-tennessee/2021/12/07/tennessee-football-music-city-bowl-preparation-purdue/8828878002/

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