Conventional wisdom said the Bowling Green Falcon offense would have to outscore the Tennessee Volunteers in a shootout if they were to win the season opener for both teams on Saturday. Well you can't blame Matt Johnson and Falcon offense for not trying.
Johnson threw for a personal best, 424 yards passing as the Falcons rolled up 557 yards of total offense against the #25 ranked Volunteers, the preseason favorite to win the Southeastern Conference east division. But it wasn't nearly enough as the Falcon defense and special teams were awful as Tennessee rolled to a 59-30 victory at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Bowling Green dug a hole early in this game, that they never were able to totally dig out of. The Falcons took the opening kick-off and went 53 yards in seven plays and took their only lead of the game, 3-0 on a Tyler Tate 40-yard field goal.
But the lead only lasted four minutes as the Volunteers running game gave the Falcons a taste of what they would be in for all game, as Jalen Hurd smashed into the end zone from eight yards out and the Vols had a 7-3. Bowling Green's offense would stall on their next two drives and two long punt returns would set the Vols up with a short field. That's all Tennessee's offense would need as Hurd and Alvin Kamara both scored again on the ground to give the Vols a 21-3 lead.
Just when it looked like this one would be over early, the Falcon offense got rolling. Johnson hit tight end Hunter Folkertsma with an 11-yard touchdown to make the score 21-10 as the opening quarter ended. It got even more interesting in the second quarter when the Falcons pulled within 21-20 with just over two minutes left in the half, thanks to another Johnson scoring strike, this one to Gehrig Dieter, and another Tate field goal.
But the first half didn't end quickly enough for the Falcon defense. The Vols scored two touchdowns in the last 1:52 of the half to take a 35-20 lead into the locker room at the break.
The Falcons would make it a one possession game (35-27) again early in the third quarter after receiver Ryan Burbrink took an inside handoff and went in for the touchdown from seven yards out. But once again, the Falcons special teams faltered and the Vols took the ensuing kick-off back 67 yards. One play later Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw an 18-yard touchdown to Ethan Wolfe and the Vols had stretched the lead out to 42-27.
Then, lightning in the area caused a nearly one and a half hour delay as both teams were sent to their respective locker rooms. After the break the Falcons offense continued to move the ball against the Vols but didn't get much to show for it. The Falcons drove deep into Tennessee territory and had a first-and-goal at the three-yard-line and ended up missing a field goal on one drive. On another they had a first-and-goal at the Tennessee five and lost a fumble on a botched handoff from Johnson to Ronnie Moore. Those two missed opportunities chocked out any hope for an upset.
Johnson would end up 27 of 48 and two touchdowns. Dieter had a monster game for the Falcons with seven catches for 133 yards. He constantly was beating the Tennessee secondary in this game. Moore finished with 95 yards on five catches, even though he was suspended and did not play in the opening half. Fred Coppet led the Falcons on the ground with 63 yards on 12 carries. Starting tailback, Travis Greene left the game late in the first half with a knee injury and did not return to the game. Greene did return to the sidelines for the second half but did not play. If his injury is serious, it would be a big blow to the Falcons.
Kamara finished the game with144 yards on 15 carries and two scores, while Hurd added 123 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns. As a team, the Vols rolled up 399 yards on the ground and six rushing touchdowns, and totaled 604 yards of total offense.
Dobbs completed 15 of 22 passes for 205 yards and two scores. He also ran for 89 yards and a touchdown. The Vols converted 29 first downs to the Falcons 24, and Tennessee held the edge in time of possession at 33:51 to 26:09.
Penalties were also a killer for the Falcons as they were whistled 12 times for 128 yards. Tennessee had just four penalties go against them for 40 yards.
The Falcons, now 0-1 on the year, will travel to Maryland next Saturday to take on the Terrapins, with kick-off scheduled for noon.