All 14 SEC schools open their season this weekend but with 13 of those contests coming up on Saturday the Tennessee Volunteers have the Thursday night slot all to themselves (in conference terms at least). There is a good vibe around the program under the watch of new head coach Josh Heupel and it will be very interesting to see how the Vols do this season.
By Steve Wright
Here are the three keys for the opener against Bowling Green:
1. Shock and Awe
Neyland Stadium should be rocking for this one and a big attendance is expected after the 2020 season saw the 102,455 capacity stadium capped at a limit of just over 25,000 people. An offseason of change – with some important players transferring out of the program – has bought in a new coaching staff and new ideas to Knoxville and it is going to be important to see returns early against a team that went 0-5 in the MAC last fall. Bowling Green has the youngest roster in the FBS with head coach Scot Loeffler estimating that as much as 70% of his team has never played in front of a live crowd at this level. Hit Bowling Green early and this one will be over by halftime.
2. Rattle Matt McDonald
The Falcons are led by a former Boston College transfer in Matt McDonald, a player who was awful in 2020. He passed for only one touchdown and 712 yards while completing passes at a 44% clip and throwing six interceptions. He was hamstrung by a shoulder issue – one that surgery is said to have fixed – but getting a pass rush in his face and hitting McDonald as much as possible – which should be doable against a lower level offensive line – will make the former Eagle think twice about stepping into his throws.
3. Show us the Offense
The Vols are (finally) going to be working behind a spread offense system where they will use tempo and downfield throws to win games. Heupel loves a downfield pass – UCF were one of the leaders in the 40+ yard play metric last season – and in the 6-foot-5, 244 pound Michigan transfer Joe Milton III he has a quarterback capable of finding the speedy Tennessee wide receivers blasting through the Bowling Green secondary. It doesn’t have to be perfect – this is Week 1 of the system – but just seeing the desire to let the bell fly (along with a win of course) will do here.