After a long and chaotic offseason involving coaching changes and an NCAA investigation, it is finally football time in Tennessee!
This will be the first full capacity football game Neyland Stadium has hosted since 2019.
Since December 2020, the Tennessee football program has been investigated by the NCAA for recruiting violations.
The investigation has led to the firing of Jeremy Pruitt and the resignation of AD Phillip Fulmer.
Since then, Danny White and Josh Heupel have been hired from UCF as Athletic Director and Head Football Coach for Tennessee.
Josh Heupel is the 5th Head Coach Tennessee has hired since the firing of Phillip Fulmer in 2008.
While he may be inheriting a program in a tough spot due to the ongoing NCAA Investigation, Heupel does bring in a brand of football that Vol fans will be excited to watch.
Tennessee opens up the 2021 season against Bowling Green.
The game will kick off at 8 pm and be televised on SEC Network
Bowling Green is coming off a 0-5 season.
The Falcons averaged to lose by 33.6 points during the 2020 season and ranked 127th out of 128 teams in Total Defense.
The Falcons offense was not much better either, averaging just 11.4 points a game.
Statistically, Bowling Green was arguably the worst team in College Football last season.
The Vols are 35 point favorites against Bowling Green.
This is the largest season-opening line Tennessee has had since Georgia State in 2019 (24 1/2).
For the Vols to avoid a disaster like 2019, here is what they must do to beat Bowling Green.
Start Out Guns Blazing
Tennessee’s offense needs to start the game guns blazing.
One of the problems that the Vols had last season was driving the ball down the field.
However, in this offense, this should not be an issue.
Heupel’s offense is pass heavy with four wideouts every play, and loves to throw the football deep.
Luckily for the Vols, they have found themselves a QB that can do that.
Joe Milton has the ability to throw the football 80 yards down the field with ease and move out of the pocket when needed.
This new style of offense will be a breath of fresh air for Vols fans compared to the offenses under Pruitt, which were often frustrating to watch.
With the talent that the Vols have at wideout and in the running back position, there is no reason for Tennessee not to score points.
If Tennessee can start the first drive with a quick touchdown, this will gain confidence among the offense and set the tone for the game.
Pressure and Contain Matt McDonald
One of the things Tennessee will need to do to beat Bowling Green is contain QB Matt McDonald.
Mcdonald transferred to Bowling Green from Boston College in 2019 and started all five games in the 2020 season.
In the five games, McDonald threw 1 TD and 6 INTs for 712 yards.
Now while these stats are far from impressive, he is being coached by Scot Loeffler, the same coach who developed Tom Brady, Tim Tebow, Chad Henne, and Brian Greise, to name a few.
It should be expected that McDonald will be an improved QB from last season.
That is why Tennessee’s front seven should be well prepared come Thursday night.
Tennessee should cruise to an easy win if Tyler Barron and Ja’Quain Blakely can come off the edges and force McDonald out of the pocket.
Run The Football
The last thing Tennessee will need to do is to run the football.
Under this style of offense, it spreads out the defense and allows RBs to run up the gut and run for huge gains.
In this style of play, two elite Running Backs are needed for this system to work.
Heupel’s style of offense will suit RBs Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small.
Evans was rated as the #1 JUCO RB in the 2021 class and has already made a name for himself on Rocky Top.
Evans will be a co-starter alongside Sophomore Jabari Small.
Small showed flashes of his speed and running ability in 2020, running for 117 yards on 26 carries.
While Vols may have lost Eric Gray and Ty Chandler this offseason to the transfer portal, Tennessee is in good company in the RB position.
Not to mention Freshman Jaylen Wright will get his opportunity his speed as well.
Bowling Green’s defense was the worst rush defense in the country in 2020, allowing 310 yards a game.
Tennessee should not have a problem running the football against the Falcons, and this should get the momentum going for the RB group for the Pittsburgh game.
This game should not be a contest, and the Vols should cruise with ease against this Bowling Green football team.
If the Offense can get going and run the football and take care of Matt McDonald, Tennessee will win their first season opener in Neyland Stadium since 2016, and Josh Heupel will be the first Head Coach since Butch Jones to win their debut game as coach of the Vols.