Losing or even struggling in openers to inferior competition isn’t a new concept for Tennessee football. The Vols are three years removed from falling to the Georgia State Panthers at home in the first game of Jeremy Pruitt’s second season. They also needed overtime to beat the Appalachian State Mountaineers on a Thursday night in 2016.
Well, their second season under Josh Heupel against a Group of Five opponent on a Thursday night. The Ball State Cardinals are two years removed from winning the MAC, and while they went 6-7 last year, Mike Neu’s program looks like one on the rise at the moment.
As a result, UT can’t take this lightly. All the optimism surrounding this season could be derailed with a shockingly bad loss, and yes, it could happen despite the 35.5-point spread. Let’s break down what could cause that here. These are the five reasons the Ball State Cardinals could upset Tennessee football on Rocky Top Thursday.
This is why Ball State could upset the Tennessee football Volunteers in their opener to Josh Heupel’s second season on the job.
Although Ball State was slightly better at it last year, both teams did a good job at taking care of the ball. However, there was a huge gap when it came to penalties. It’s safe to say the Vols lost to the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Purdue Boilermakers last year because they committed over 100 yards worth of penalties.
For the year, UT was No. 106 in fewest penalty yards per game, giving up 63.7. They were slightly better, at No. 91, in fewest penalties per game at just under seven, but that was still far too low. Dealing with an offense like Josh Heupel’s naturally opens itself up for penalties.
Ball State, meanwhile, was the opposite. They were No. 14 in fewest penalty yards per game at 40.8. Meanwhile, they were No. 20 in fewest penalties per game at just under five. Now, less experience this year could nullify that advantage, but that’s a huge gap between them and Tennessee football, and new talent leads to another factor.