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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
Joe Milton was named the starting quarterback on Monday.
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

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Preview: Tennessee Volunteers vs. Bowling Green Falcons

The first game of the 2021 season is here.

The Tennessee Volunteers (0-0) will get a chance to strut its stuff when it takes on the Bowling Green Falcons (0-0) on Thursday night. Many will get to witness Josh Heupel’s offense firsthand during a national televised game, which ups the ante a bit for the Vols.

The Vols need a quick start and a good first impression to start the season in the worst way. Will they be able to get that done against the Falcons?


All-time series: The Vols won the only matchup between the two teams back in 2015, which was a 59-30 win during Butch Jones’ third year at the helm.

How to watch: You can find the game on the SEC Network. The matchup kicks off at 8PM EST on Thursday, September 2.

2020 offensive and defensive rankings: The Vols finished 102nd in total offense last year and 65th in total defense. The Falcons finished 111th in total offense and 117th in total defense.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel
How will Josh Heupel’s offense fare on Thursday night?
Saul Young/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

What To Watch For

  • Josh Heupel’s offense: This will be the first real and up-close look at Heupel’s system for Vols fans. The Falcons are a good team to show off against, considering how bad they were/are on defense. It will be interesting to see how well the players grasp the system during their first game.
  • Joe Milton’s impact: Milton was hand-picked by Heupel and the coaching staff to be the starter. The former Michigan Wolverine couldn’t get it together during his time in Ann Arbor. Can he be the guy for the Vols in 2021?
  • Who steps up on defense: There are a few players that have somewhat-proven themselves during their careers at Tennessee, but there are still a lot of guys who are looking to make themselves heard. The defense doesn’t have a true leader just yet. Who will assume that role? Thursday night will be a good indicator of who the defense leans on throughout the season.
  • The trenches: You have to be able to win in the trenches if you want to win in the SEC and the Vols have a ton of questions on both sides of the ball. Can the front five and front four prove to be a competent/effective grouping?
  • Don’t be the first: Scott Loeffler went 0-5 during his third year with the Falcons and the team hasn’t won a game since November 2019. The Vols need to be convincing here.

Impact Players

Tennessee Volunteers

  • QB Joe Milton: It all starts here. Milton should have a solid game his first time wearing the Volunteer Orange.
  • RB Tiyon Evans: The JUCO transfer is arguably the most explosive player on the entire team and could have a big year if he can get some blocking up front.
  • LT Darnell Wright: Wright’s switch to left tackle will be something to monitor all year long.
  • DE Tyler Baron: The reports on Baron have been glowing. Now it’s time to translate his practice performance(s) to the field.
  • LB Juwan Mitchell: The linebacker corps was very thing before Mitchell’s arrival. While the depth still isn’t where you want it to be, Mitchell’s presence adds a savvy vet to the second level of the defense.
  • CB Alontae Taylor: He assumed a rather large leadership role over the summer and will be counted on to anchor the Vols secondary. How will it shake out?

Bowling Green Falcons

  • QB Matt McDonald: He returns after starting all five games for the Falcons in a COVID-shortened season. Can the Vols defense make life hard?
  • WR Austin Osborne: The former four-star recruit should be McDonald’s No. 1 target in 2021 and has a chance to get off to a good start against the Vols.
  • C Cade Zimmerly: Zimmerly is a true freshman and will be playing in front of a raucous Vols crowd on Thursday night.
  • DE Karl Brooks: He’s the defensive captain of the team and can make life hell for Wright and Cade Mays if he’s on.
  • LB Diego Neri: Another true freshman at a key starting spot for the Falcons.
  • CB Davon Ferguson: Can the senior defensive back inject some playmaking ability into the secondary?
NCAA Football: Tennessee Media Day
How will Trevon Flowers and the Vols defense look against the Falcons?
Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Game Outlook

The Vols are currently (-33.5) favorites, which obviously means they are big favorites to win this game. As they should be. Even if this Vols team is one of the least-hyped teams in a while. Tennessee is still a vastly superior team when compared to Bowling Green.

However, we know that it’s not impossible for the Falcons to pull one out. Just go back a couple of years and look at the Georgia State game, for instance. The Falcons will kick off against a Vols team that has a ton of questions plus the added stress of carrying the Power T on their helmets. What I mean by that is the team will be looking for something to prove, which could lead to mistakes and other fallacies. The Vols can’t walk into Neyland and just assume everything will go accordingly against the Falcons.

With that being said, the Vols should win big on Thursday night. They are still a better team than Bowling Green, even with all the questions. Whether or not they cover the spread is another matter, but expect the Vols to start the season 1-0.

Tennessee throttles Texas A&M 86-51

Vols’ offense explodes for 18 runs in fourth, fifth, six innings, takes game two from Albany 21-6

UPDATE: AJ Russell left Friday’s game due to soreness, according to Vitello, various outlets