NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Game day has arrived! For only the second time in history, Tennessee and Purdue will cross paths on the gridiron. The Vols and Boilermakers play in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl on Thursday starting at 3 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.
The Vols pulled up to Nissan Stadium around 12:40 p.m., and were greeted by loud applause and cheers from fans excited for the game.
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel had a joint press conference with Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm on Wednesday afternoon a day ahead of the Music City Bowl.
The big news for the Vols is when Heupel said starting offensive lineman Cade Mays, a Knoxville native, will not play in the game due to an injury. Duane Davis and Jeremiah Crawford are expected to get reps in his place.
This will be the second key player that won't play for the Vols as cornerback Alontae Taylor announced a couple of weeks ago he wouldn't play in the bowl game so he could prepare for his pro career.
Heupel said the rest of the team is ready to go and excited for the task ahead.
"Excited that we get to play here inside of our home state," he said. "We are looking forward to a great football game. Purdue is a great football team. We are looking forward to a sold-out stadium and having a lot of fun finishing off our season."
Music City Bowl representatives said the game is just a few hundred seats from being a sellout.
They also announced Tennessee would be the visitor team in this game. However, there is a lot of orange expected in the stands.
The question came up about how serious the Vols players are taking this game, as many believe bowl games aren't that important anymore. Heupel said his team is locked in.
"This is a game that our players pushed towards to and it matters a great deal to our program," he said.
It also matters a great deal to the Boilermakers. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm spoke highly about his team's excitement and spoke highly of Tennessee football as they finalize their preparations for Thursday's game.
"We are excited to play a very quality opponent," he said. "Josh Heupel has done a great job with his team this year. They have a lot of talent and some big wins. We know it's going to be an environment with a lot of orange in the stadium, but I know a lot of Purdue fans will come down as well"
Purdue will play without multiple key starters on Thursday afternoon. The program's top two receivers, David Bell and Milton Wright, will not play. Bell opted out of the bowl game to focus on the NFL Draft, while Wright did not travel to Nashville. Bell and Wright combined for 49% of the Boilermakers' receiving yards in the regular season and scored 13 of Purdue's 30 receiving touchdowns.
Defensive end George Karlaftis also opted out and declared for the NFL Draft. He led Purdue in tackles for loss, sacks and quarterback hits. Cornerback Dedrick Mackey did not travel with the Boilermakers to Nashville. He finished second on the team with three interceptions.
The Boilermakers finished the regular season 8-4. A pair of their wins came against top-five teams. Purdue upset second-ranked Iowa on Oct. 16 and took down fifth-ranked Michigan State on Nov. 6.
Purdue attacks defenses with a pass-heavy offense. Averaging 44 pass attempts per game, the Boilermakers racked up 4,086 yards. Starting quarterback Aidan O'Connell leads the passing attack. The fifth-year senior competed 73.5% of his passes for 3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Jeff Brohm is Purdue's head coach and is wrapping up his fifth season at the helm. Like Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel, Brohm was a starting quarterback on the collegiate level. Brohm played at Louisville, starting for three seasons.