Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Preview

Dec. 24, 2016

Nebraska will square off against Tennessee in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee on Friday, Dec. 30.  The game will be televised at 3:30 p.m. ET by ESPN from Nissan Stadium, the home of the Tennessee Titans.

Nebraska enters the game with a 9-3 record, including a 6-3 mark in Big Ten play. The Huskers’ four-game improvement during the regular season marked the school’s biggest increase in regular-season victories since 1962. Second-year head coach Mike Riley has returned Nebraska to the postseason once again, making this his 10th straight team to qualify for a bowl game, following eight consecutive trips at Oregon State. Riley owns a 7-2 record in bowl games and his 78 percent winning percentage ranks fifth in NCAA history among coaches who have appeared in at least eight bowl games. The appearance in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl will be the first-ever for the Huskers, and Nebraska’s second bowl game in the state of Tennessee, adding to an appearance in the 1977 Liberty Bowl. The Music City Bowl is Nebraska’s 53rd all-time bowl appearance, tying for the second-most bowl appearances of any school in the country. Nebraska has appeared in a bowl game in 46 of the past 48 seasons, and the Music City Bowl will mark the 16th bowl in which Nebraska has participated.

Tennessee finished the regular season 8-4 overall, marking its third straight winning season. Coach Butch Jones is completing his fourth season at Tennessee and his 10th season overall as a college head coach. He has taken eight of his 10 teams to bowl games, and sent the Volunteers to the postseason the past three seasons. The three straight bowl appearances is a feat that has not been accomplished at UT since 2002-04. The Vols are now looking to win three straight bowl games for the first time since the 1994, 1995 and 1996 seasons. In the past two years, UT took a 45-28 win over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2, 2015, and then capped its 2015 campaign with a 45-6 victory over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2016. This year's game against Nebraska will mark Tennessee's second appearance in the Music City Bowl. The Vols previously played in the bowl in 2010, falling to North Carolina, 30-27, in double overtime.

The meeting with Tennessee will mark the third-ever matchup in the combined 247 seasons of football history between the schools. Nebraska defeated Tennessee in the Orange Bowl following the 1997 season, to clinch a national championship. Two seasons later, Nebraska defeated Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl to close a 12-1 season. 





Scoring Defense

Total Offense

Total Defense

Rushing Offense

Rushing Defense

Passing Offense

Passing Defense

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Nebraska ranks sixth in the Big Ten in rushing (178.2) and scoring (26.8), and eighth in passing (207.9) and total offense (386.1). Senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has passed for 2,180 yards with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions and has run for 512 yards and eight scores. He should be ready to go for the bowl game, but has been limited due to a lingering hamstring injury. One the other key leaders of the Huskers offense will in fact be sidelined for the bowl game. Third-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp has played the last game of his career after suffering a non-contact injury during bowl practice. The injury will require surgery, which ends the Husker career of the team leader in receptions (38), receiving yards (526) and touchdown receptions (5) this year. He caught at least one pass in 36 consecutive games, falling just one shy of the school record. Running back Terrell Newby and tight end Cethan Carter earned honorable mention All-Big Ten accolades this year. Carter is among the top pass-catching tight ends in Nebraska history. His senior season was hampered by injury, but he managed 17 receptions. Newby played his best football in Big Ten play and finished the regular season with 864 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns, while also catching 16 passes out of the backfield. Nebraska’s O-line, led by All-Big Ten tackle Nick Gates, has allowed just 11 sacks on the year, which are the fewest in the Big Ten and the sixth-fewest in the nation.

Tennessee’s defense ranks ninth in scoring (29.3), 10th in passing yards allowed (228.5), 11th in total yards (460.2) and 12th against the rush (231.7). Junior defensive end and consensus All-American Derek Barnett leads the SEC and is tied for sixth in the nation with a career-high 12.0 sacks and his 18.0 tackles for loss lead the league and rank 15th nationally. Barnett's 32.0 career sacks also rank second nationally and he is tied with the late great Reggie White for the most sacks in UT history. Additionally, he has recorded two forced fumbles, three pass breakups, one interception and 12 quarterback hurries. Junior Todd Kelly and sophomore Micah Abernathy each average six tackles per game, while Abernathy is sixth nationally with three forced fumbles on the year. Senior Corey Vereen is among the top 20 in the SEC with 10.5 tackles for loss. The Vols defensive unit has been plagued all season by injuries, including shutdown cornerback Cameron Sutton. He missed six games this season, but returned in mid-November to set the school record for most passes defended. In 44 career games played, Sutton has amassed 126 tackles (110 solo), 13.0 tackles for loss, seven interceptions, 37 passes defended, one sack, three forced fumbles and three fumbles recovered.  

On offense, Tennessee ranks second in the SEC in scoring (36.3), fifth in passing (234.1), and eighth in rushing (203.2) and total yards (437.3). The Vols have seen their scoring output expand to 50.2 points per game over the last four games. Senior Joshua Dobbs, a second team AP All-SEC quarterback, leads the league in touchdown passes (26), passing efficiency (152.6) and points responsible for (216). He heads into the bowl game with the third most yards of total offense by a single player in Tennessee history at 8,951. Dobbs also ranks fourth in UT history with 591 completions, fourth with 961 pass attempts, fifth with 6,847 passing yards and fifth with 52 passing touchdowns. The scrambling quarterback has also been the threat on the ground, especially after the midseason transfer of top running back Jalen Hurd. Dobbs rushes for close to 60 yards per game and has totaled nine rushing touchdowns on the year. Josh Malone is Dobbs’ primary target in the passing game is Josh Malone, having finished second in the SEC with 10 receiving touchdowns, fifth with 852 receiving yards, and sixth with 71.0 receiving yards per game.

On defense, Nebraska ranks fourth in the Big Ten in total yards (350.6), sixth in rushing (141.0) and scoring (22.8), and 10th in passing (209.6). Nebraska also ranks second in the Big Ten and 12th nationally in interceptions with 16, thanks in part to second-team All-Big Ten senior safety Nathan Gerry, who helped guide one the nation’s most improved defensive units.   Gerry finished the regular season second for the Huskers in total tackles with 74, including 47 solo stops. His seven tackles for loss were tied for fourth among all Husker defenders, with his four interceptions and eight pass breakups ranking second on the team. His 13 career interceptions are one shy of the Nebraska career record. Four members of the Huskers defense earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, including senior defensive end Ross Dzuris, senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice, senior linebacker Josh Banderas and junior cornerback Chris Jones. Dzuris leads Nebraska with 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss this season, while Maurice registered 35 tackles and four sacks. Banderas leads the Huskers with 89 tackles, including 38 solo stops and eight tackles for loss. He has recorded at least eight tackles in seven straight games heading into the bowl game. Jones led the Huskers with nine pass breakups, while adding three interceptions, including a return for a touchdown at Indiana.

Nebraska placekicker Drew Brown was perfect on his 35 PAT attempts this season and was 11-for-13 on field goal attempts, with a long of 51 yards. Joining Brown as an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection is De’Mornay Pierson-El, who averaged 7.3 yards on punt returns. Jordan Nelson and Tre Bryant handle kick return duties. Nelson is averaging 23.7 yards per return, while Bryant sits a 22.1. As for Tennessee’s special teams, punter Trevor Daniel is third in the SEC at 44.7 yards per punt and kicker Aaron Medley is a perfect 56-for-56 on PATs this year, although just 10-for-15 on field goal attempts. Defender Cameron Sutton does boast a 14.9 career punt-return average, which is the best in school history. The Vols have been bitten by the injury bug on special teams as well. Evan Berry, An All-SEC return specialist who leads the SEC and ranks second in the nation with a 32.9-yard kick return average, was lost to a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 7.