It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for Tennessee in the opener of the Josh Heupel era, but it sure was for the run game. The Volunteers struggled through the air as Joe Milton tried to find his footing, but Heupel was able to lean on the rushing attack to pull away from the Falcons.
A common misconception about Heupel’s attack is that it’s just another air raid — that’s not true, and that was illustrated in a big way on Thursday night. Tennessee ran for 326 yards against Bowling Green, consistently winning up front as they should against an inferior opponent.
Jabari Small got the start and handled 23 carries, putting up 116 yards and a touchdown. Tiyon Evans received 16 carries, also going for 116 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought they pressed the line of scrimmage for most of the night,” Heupel said after the win. “Did a really good job with getting vertical. Front-wise, they were a little different than what we had planned for. They adjusted to it, handled it, delivered blockers. I thought they took care of the football really well tonight. Overall really pleased with their performance.”
Evans was particularly impressive, showing off some nice burst and wiggle throughout the night. He ended up gaining over seven yards per attempt.
Tennessee won with scheme in the run game, which was fun to see. With the receivers split so far out wide, there was plenty of green grass to find all night long. Of course, having a size and talent advantage up front didn’t hurt.
Joe Milton was a huge part of the rushing attack too, taking a handful of designed runs to add a different wrinkle. The 6-5, 244 pound Milton isn’t exactly fast, but he offers enough athletic ability to keep defenses honest. He ended up handling 14 carries, which went for 44 yards. Milton was also a weapon in the redzone, scoring twice on the ground on keepers.
On a night where the passing attack stalled, Tennessee went full bully-ball to put away Bowling Green. They likely won’t be able to do that next week against Pittsburgh, meaning they’ll have to have much more consistency out of Milton as a passer, as well as the receivers.