Tennessee vs. Bowling Green
When: Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015; 4 pm ET
Where: Nashville, Tenn. (Nissan Stadium)
Early line: Tennessee favored by 24.5 points (5Dimes)
Bowling Green at a glance:
Head coach: Dino Babers (8-6 in one year at Bowling Green)
All-time record: 507-348-52
2014 results: 8-6 (5-3 MAC); Finished 1st in the MAC East and won The Camellia Bowl
Returning starters: 14: 10 (offense), 4 (defense)
2014 overview: Bowling Green’s 2014 campaign certainly wasn’t the best in program history. But considering how the season started, the Falcons don’t have much to complain about.
The aforementioned disastrous start was a 59-31 season-opening loss at Western Kentucky. It wasn’t just the sound beating, but also the injury of quarterback Matt Johnson, who led Bowling Green to the 2013 MAC title, that started the season in such alarming fashion.
The Falcons, however, quickly rallied around James Knapke at quarterback, winning five of their next six games with a victory over Big 10 foe Indiana and only a loss at Wisconsin during that stretch. In the five wins, Knapke averaged 331.2 yards per game, sparking the high-flying offense and putting the Falcons in good position in the MAC East.
There were some ups and downs in the final half of the season. That’s to be expected under a first-year coach and a backup quarterback. But even a two-game losing streak to end the regular season couldn’t keep the Falcons out of the MAC title game, where they ultimately would get pounded 51-17 by Northern Illionis. BGSU bounced back for the bowl game, pulling out a 33-28 win in the Camillia Bowl over South Alabama.
Three questions for the 2015 matchup:
1. Will this be a shootout?
Bowling Green, like Tennessee, likes to move fast. The Falcons were averaged 78.8 snaps per game in 2014 (12th in the nation) and were in the top 10 nationally in scoring drives of two minutes or less. The return of Johnson at quarterback and a second year in Babers’ offense should speed things up even more. BGSU also averaged 30 ppg in 2014, and 31 ppg against its two Big 10 foes, so you can’t claim that it’s only the result of playing in the MAC. Expect the Falcons, which return their top four receivers and All-MAC candidate running back Travis Greene, to find some ways to put points on the board against UT. With the pace of both offenses, this might be a good game to take the ‘over’ in.
2. Can Bowling Green’s defense slow UT, particularly on the ground?
While it’s reasonable to assume that BGSU will be able to score some points on offense, will the Falcons have any way of slowing down Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara, Joshua Dobbs and the rest of UT’s rushing attack down? It doesn’t look promising. The Falcons were one of the worst rushing defenses in the nation in 2014 (101st), giving up 202.1 ypg. And with seven starters gone, including several key cogs in the front seven, Bowling Green will be extremely hard pressed to slow down what is expected to be a revamped rushing attack for the Vols.
3. Can Bowling Green make it a game?
All signs point to a Tennessee win in this one. It would be a significant upset and a horrible sign for the 2015 campaign if Tennessee were to drop this one in Nashville. But what type of game will this shape up to be? The Vols have avoided any significant non-conference upsets in recent years. Some have been a little close for comfort, however, such as Arkansas State in 2014 and South Alabama in 2013. The Vols would like this one to go more the way of Utah State (2014) or Western Kentucky (2013) where they put it out of reach, have some breathing room and get the backups some work.
How will it play out?
I think the oddsmakers got it about right. I see this one being a Tennessee win by three or four scores. Expect plenty of points in this one though, and it wouldn’t be stunning to see Bowling Green score a few times and possibly put up 17-24 points.
The Vols should simply overwhelm what looks to be a bad defense, however. The Falcons are expected to be porous against the run, and the Vols should be content to simply pound their way to 250+ rushing yards and several touchdowns on the ground. But Tennessee should find production through the air as well against a defense that gave up 291.4 ypg in that category last year as well.
Probably not a name-your-score type of game for Tennessee, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tennessee hang 45+ points and have this one wrapped up before the fourth quarter.