Surprise, surprise: Tennessee running game was better than passing

Marvin Westwestwords

Well, that was different.

We expected a rapid-fire air raid and bombs away. Tennessee delivered a surprise, a knockdown and runaway ground attack. Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans each had a touchdown and 116 yards.

There were concerns about the defense. It dominated.

Joe Milton III

Joe Milton III did not clinch all-America honors in his debut. The quarterback ran for two touchdowns but completed only 11 of 23 passing for 140 yards. Those numbers included some ups and downs. He started 10-of-12 but hit only one in the second half. Cedrick Tillman made an acrobatic move and caught that 40-yarder in the end zone, the play of the night.

Special teams didn’t do anything special.

Best part of the opening game of the Josh Heupel era was the Vols defeated Bowling Green, 38-6.

“Awesome experience,” said the new coach. He was talking about the Vol Walk, running through the T, the enthusiastic student section and the fact that his team played with energy and passion.

“It wasn’t perfect,” said Heupel. “Football never is. But there were positive points and other things we must get adjusted.”

Attendance was announced at something more than 84,000. I thought a few people were probably counted twice.

Tennessee delivered the up-tempo pace as advertised. Elapsed time between snaps was 9.8 seconds for the series I checked with a stopwatch.

The Vols scored in a hurry on their first two possessions but faltered and lost the second quarter, two field goals to nothing.

Somebody delivered a pep talk at intermission. The offensive line took charge of the third quarter. As the coach likes to say, defensive players played as if their hair was on fire.

Theo Jackson let the hitters with 11 tackles and broke up some Bowling Green passes. Tyler Baron applied some heat on the quarterback. The defensive front was much better than in times past. The coaching concept – attack instead of contain – helps.

Depth turned out to be a plus up front. Ten played.

The Vols won’t enjoy all of the Saturday review of the video. One step from a touchdown, Jalin Hyatt managed to drop a pass that hit between the 1 and the 1 on his number 11 jersey. Milton, famous for a strong right arm, once threw the ball 10 yards past Tillman who was open in the end zone.

Milton was once sacked and lost a fumble. That wasn’t his fault. Somebody missed a block and Joe was blindsided.

Guard-playing-center Jerome Carvin was flagged for holding on consecutive plays. The first violation created and erased a touchdown by Small. The second was just frustrating.

Carvin filling in at center was a bad omen. Starter Cooper Mays suffered an ankle injury.

There was another caution light. Outside linebacker Byron Young did not play because of an eligibility issue. Two games at a prep school that folded may turn out to be minor or it could be a problem.

Tennessee will begin serious preparation on Saturday for Pittsburgh. Be sure the Panthers will bring more talent. Senior quarterback Kenny Pickett has improved the passing offense. Eight starters return.

The Pitt defense has been outstanding but it suffered key losses.

UT coaches will be busy smoothing out the passing game. The Panthers often press receivers at the line of scrimmage and that might disrupt Tennessee timing.

Maybe I’m looking too far ahead. I’ll switch to what Heupel said.

“We’ll take this win and then start finding ways to get better.”

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

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