Although Tennessee football never trailed in this game, there were moments when it got closer than it should have. Vol fans have been too traumatized over the years to truly trust that any lead against any team is safe, no matter how bad they are.
Eventually Rocky Top was able to take control and dominate the Bowling Green Falcons, but a series of miscues that we have documented in previous posts about the game certainly made it interesting. UT needed a few big plays to take back control.
What were those plays that changed the game and set the tone throughout? Let’s break those down here. These were the turning points and the key moments from Tennessee football’s season-opening win over Bowling Green.
Four third-down conversions lead to touchdowns on opening two drives
Early on, it looked like the Vols were about to put on a major show for everybody. They scored two touchdowns on drives of 66 and 67 yards respectively to open the game and go up 14-0, one just under three minutes and one just a second over two minutes. The story on both of them was third down conversions.
Joe Milton III found Jalin Hyatt for seven yards on a 3rd and 5 on their first drive to avoid a three-and-out. The Vols then drew a holding call on 3rd and 6 near the red zone, and Milton ran for a touchdown on 3rd and 1. On their next drive, Milton ran for 12 yards on a 3rd and 4 to keep it alive. These two scores set the tone early, and these conversions got them going.
Penalty, Tyler Baron sack forces second Bowling Green field goal
Late in the second quarter, panic mode was somewhat sitting in for Vol fans. After going up 14-0, their offense has stalled. BGSU had the ball down only 14-3 and had made it 3rd and 5 from inside the Tennessee 15-yard-line. A TD would’ve made it 14-10, dangerously close, at halftime.
That’s when big plays and breaks stepped in. BGSU first got a false start. Then, however, Tyler Baron made the key play, sacking Matt McDonald for a seven-yard loss and bringing up 4th and 23. Nate Needham still nailed a 50-yard field goal, but 14-6 at halftime looked a lot better for Tennessee football than 14-10 would have looked.
Jabari Small gains 29 yards on three carries open second half
After a sluggish finish to the first half, the Vols opened the second half with the ball up 14-6. They needed to prove that this Josh Heupel offense was worthy of the hype, and they went back to what BGSU notoriously can’t stop: The rushing attack.
Heupel gave the ball to Jabari Small three times, and he gained 29 yards. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it had the offense clicking again and got them past the 50. Using that momentum, they drove the rest of the way, and Milton had his second touchdown run of the game to put UT up 21-6.
Vols stop Bowling Green on 4th and 2 in the third
Things really picked up for Tennessee football with that opening drive in the second half, and two drives later they scored again. Meanwhile, they had not allowed BGSU to get a first down on its first two possessions. On the third, though, things got dicey. Trailing 28-6, they drove down to the UT 42-yard line and brought up a 2nd and 3.
A touchdown here could have made it a game again, but this is where the Vols’ defense came through. They stopped a completed pass to Austin Osborne from going any further than a yard. Then they stopped Terion Stewart for no gain. Finally, on fourth down, they forced an incomplete pass. This really put them in control.
Vols stop Bowling Green on 4th and 1 in the fourth
It was crucial for Rocky Top to get a fourth down stop on that third quarter drive, but BGSU was at it again early in the fourth. Thanks to a fumble by Joe Milton III, they had brought up a 4th and 1 at the UT 33-yard-line. Again, this could have made it a game with them trailing only 28-6, and there were over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
On that fourth down, though, Scot Loeffler drew up a pass play from McDonald to Stewart, which he completed. However, it went for no gain, and once again, the Vols’ defense came through with a huge stand late to keep control of this game.
Sure, Tennessee football scored 10 more points, including a beautiful 40-yard bomb from Milton to Cedric Tillman. However, these two fourth down stops are what put the game in hand, so it makes the page as a true turning point.