Tennessee got off on the right foot to start the Josh Heupel era, earning a 38-6 win over the Bowling Green Falcons. The Volunteers were the overwhelming favorite entering this one, and likely used it as a tune-up game ahead of Pittsburgh next week.
There were some tense moments in the second quarter, however, as Joe Milton struggled to find the rhythm that he started out with. In the end, the run game took over and the Tennessee defense was too strong.
In no particular order, here are several (admittedly unorganized) game notes that I jotted down while watching.
- The pace of play, when it was rolling in the first quarter, was a lot of fun. You can tell why this offense has succeeded everywhere it’s been. At one point, Tennessee ran 13 plays in under three minutes, capping it with a touchdown. Bowling Green adjusted, however, and started dropping eight and spying Joe Milton, which seemed to rattle him. It’s worth wondering if we saw the entire offense tonight, but we did at least get a glimpse of it operating at full song.
- Velus Jones Jr. shockingly was totally uninvolved in the offense. The passing game went ice cold, but I thought we would see more manufactured touches for the senior receiver. It seems like he could have at least provided a spark.
- Hendon Hooker took the field ahead of Harrison Bailey to end the game. Perhaps it had something to do with the gameplan that was in place, but that’s noteworthy after Heupel declined to name a backup quarterback on Monday.
- Cooper Mays went down with an injury and Ollie Lane was the first man off of the bench. Jerome Carvin shifted to center, as expected. The offense as a whole seemed to turn downhill after Cooper’s injury, but Heupel said he expected to have him back next week.
- Cedric Tillman got all of the deep looks tonight. I’m not sure if that was by design or just dumb luck, but Tillman did get plenty of separation down the field. Joe Milton just missed him twice for what would have been two long scores.
- Jalin Hyatt had a bit of a rough night. The sophomore had a hot start, catching four passes for 64 yards early. But he dropped two big 20+ yard passes, one of which would have set up another likely touchdown. It was surprising to see him not involved in the vertical passing game.
- Tiyon Evans seems to be the more explosive running back, but both he and Jabari Small will play huge roles. Small handled 23 carries while Evan received 16 carries. Both went for well over 100 yards, as Tennessee dominated the line of scrimmage. The Vols won with offensive spacing, spreading things out with the receivers out wide and attacking up the middle. Against an inferior opponent, it was no match as the Volunteers put up 326 yards on the ground.
- The defensive front was very disruptive. Grain of salt, of course, considering the opponent. But it was good to see the defensive line living in the backfield, blowing up run after run. This group will get a boost when Byron Young returns, too.
- Tennessee lost the turnover battle, 2-0. Tim Banks and Josh Heupel have stressed this area all offseason long, but failed to earn a takeaway on Thursday night.
- Theo Jackson had a big night from the STAR position. He was credited with 11 total tackles, two of which went for a loss. He nearly hauled in an interception, and ended up with three pass breakups on the night.
- Tyler Baron looked a little leaner and quicker coming off of the edge tonight. He got home for a sack, and made a couple of plays at the line of scrimmage. Baron also batted a ball down that nearly fell into Ja’Quain Blakely’s lap for a touchdown.