The Tennessee Volunteers opened up the 2015 season with an offensive explosion, defeating Bowling Green 59-30. But as great as the Vols looked on offense, their defense looked just as bad. The opening game of the 2015 season made Vol fans think back to 2012 with the amount of yards and big plays the defense gave up, as the Falcons totaled 557 yards of offense against the Vols.
There was a lot of good news from Tennessee's opening game of the 2015 season, but there was also plenty of things the coaches will use in the film room to correct mistakes heading into a huge match-up with Oklahoma next week. Here's what we learned from Tennessee's first win in 2015:
Tennessee Can Run the Ball Again
The Vols struggled at times to run the ball last season until Joshua Dobbs took over at quarterback down the stretch. He helped catapult the Vols to 344 rushing yards against South Carolina in his first start of the season, and the Vols were able to run more effectively thereafter. Tennessee picked up where they left off to start 2015, and the running game looks like the biggest strength of the entire team.
Tennessee ran for 399 yards on 64 carries against Bowling Green on Saturday, averaging 6.2 yards a carry and scoring 6 times on the ground. Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara were both phenomenal, and it looks like the Vols will have one of the best running back duos in the country if their performance against Bowling Green is any indication. Hurd scored 3 times on 23 carries for 123 yards while Kamara led the team with 144 yards on 14 carries and 2 scores of his own. Even Dobbs got in on the fun, running for 89 yards on 12 carries and scoring Tennessee's last touchdown of the game.
The Vols have been looking for a dynamic two-headed rushing attack for years, and there's a good chance they've found it in Hurd and Kamara. Add that to Dobbs' ability to run the ball, and Tennessee could be very dangerous on the ground in 2015.
Secondary May be an Issue
Tennessee fans were in a frenzy throughout the game Saturday, as Bowling Green amassed 433 passing yards in the game and connected on multiple big pass plays on almost every drive. Bowling Green's starting quarterback Matt Johnson completed 27-of-49 passes for 424 yards and two scores and had his way with Tennessee's secondary at times during the game.
The secondary's struggles weren't because of a lack of pass rush up front. Tennessee's defense got 3 sacks and had plenty of pressure for most of the game against Bowling Green, but Johnson was able to find receivers quickly and down the field on multiple occasions.
It should be noted, however, that Bowling Green has a powerful offense and has an offensive style that the Vols likely won't encounter again all season. While that's no excuse (and neither is secondary coach Willie Martinez's absence due to suspension for the game), it can certainly help explain a little of Tennessee's woes during the game. But the amount of gaffes is still concerning, and the secondary needs to clean up their issues before Oklahoma comes to Knoxville.
Offensive Line Will be Inconsistent
Tennessee's offensive line was easily the weak link on the team in 2014, and the unit had its ups and downs against Bowling Green on Saturday. The run blocking was at its best its been in a long time, but the pass protection had too many breakdowns against what will be one of the worst defenses the Vols will face this season.
While the stats don't reflect it (Bowling Green managed just one sack and 5 tackles for a loss), the Falcons' front seven got more penetration than they should have, and Dobbs had to scramble out of the pocket on multiple occasions, sometimes electing to tuck it and run and sometimes dumping it off to a receiver. The line didn't look terrible, but Bowling Green's defense shouldn't have gotten as much pressure as it did.
Special Teams is Special
Aside from a rough night from kicker Aaron Medley, Tennessee's special teams was phenomenal against Bowling Green. Cam Sutton ripped off multiple big punt returns en route to a 102 yard performance, and Evan Berry turned what looked like a bad decision when he hesitated in the end zone into a 67-yard kickoff return. Even punter Trevor Daniel had a good night, punting three times for a 47 yard average, booming a 61-yard punt at one point.
The Vols notoriously had terrible special teams play under Derek Dooley and in the first year under Butch Jones. But the last two seasons have seen major improvement in that respect, and the Vols' return game especially should be special this season.
Third Down Defense Stout Once Again
Continuing the trend from last season, Tennessee's defense stood tall on third down throughout the game against Bowling Green. As porous as Tennessee's secondary was at times, the defense as a whole often came together on third down and stifled the Falcons. The Vold held Bowling Green to just 4 third down conversions on 18 attempts, good for just a 22.2 percent conversion rate.
The Vols started out 2014 strong on third down defense before injuries and depth issues wore them down later in the season, and the 2015 season is starting out much the same. Most of Bowling Green's damage on offense came on 1st and 2nd down, but the Vols' 3rd down defense stood strong multiple times.