The Tennessee Volunteers kicked the 2021 season off on the right foot.
New quarterback Joe Milton scored three touchdowns en route to a 38-6 win over Bowling Green for the new-look Vols. Josh Heupel’s coaching debut went off without a hitch, although the bettors backing Tennessee covering the spread may have had a tough night.
Milton, who debuted for UT after playing a few years with the Michigan Wolverines, tossed a touchdown while running for two. He attributed 184 yards of total offense himself, showing off dynamic play under center. His only real demerit was that he completed under 50 percent of his passes. But with that being said, it was a rock-solid debut for him all around.
Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans also showed out on the ground. The duo combined for 232 rushing yards, as each rusher gained 116 yards apiece. Each averaged over 5.0 yards per carry, with Evans going for 7.3 YPC on 16 carries. Both also scored a touchdown, giving the Vols four rushing scores on the evening at Neyland.
Milton and Small kicked off the game with first-quarter touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. Bowling Green responded with two field goals from Nate Needham in the second quarter. Needham booted them from 42 and 50 yards out, impressive marks for any kicker, college or not. Milton scored his second rushing touchdown to open the third quarter, and was followed up by Tiiyon Evans’ 19-yard scamper to the end zone.
After Chase McGrath kicked a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, Cedric Tillman capped the scoring off. Tillman found paydirt off a 40-yard reception from Milton, the longest completion of the night.
The Tennessee defense certainly did their job. They held Bowling Green to a 3rd down conversion rate of 14.3 percent (2-14) and went 0-for-2 on 4th downs. The Falcons only averaged 3.6 yards per play against the Vol defense. About the only ‘loss’ they felt was falling behind in TOP 33:53-26:07. Even then, that’s a very small potato issue with such a lopsided score.
We probably didn’t learn too much about Tennessee in this one due to the talent gap. We’ll probably learn loads more when the Vols take on the Pitt Panthers next weekend. For now, Tennessee fans can take solace in this opening night win and the glimmers of optimism that come with it.