Tennessee Vols open season hosting Ball State under lights

Sports

Ball State (0-0) at Tennessee (0-0), 7 p.m. ET (SEC Network)

Line: Tennessee by 34 ½, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: First meeting.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

With a trip to No. 17 Pittsburgh up next, Tennessee has an opportunity to get coach Josh Heupel’s second season on Rocky Top headed in the right direction. The stress level is much different than a year ago when the Volunteers opened with a Thursday night win over Bowling Green. These Vols are just outside the AP Top 25, which could change with a big win in their opener. Ball State will be opening with a new quarterback in John Paddock. He played in just two games last season.

KEY MATCH

Ball State’s defense has to try and handle Tennessee’s up-tempo attack. While going 7-6 last season, the Vols averaged 475 offensive yards. The Vols will be trying to work out personnel issues at left tackle (Gerald Mincey or Jeremiah Crawford), running back behind Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright and a steady rotation in the defensive secondary. Ball State sophomore RB Carson Steele, who rushed for 891 yards and six touchdowns last season, will be the focus of the Tennessee defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Tennessee: WR Bru McCoy. The transfer from Southern California was just ruled eligible by the NCAA and will line up opposite Cedric Tillman. He hasn’t played since six games for the Trojans in the pandemic-truncated 2020 season.

Ball State: Senior CB Ameche Uzodinma II. He had 37 tackles and three pass breakups last season. If the Vols choose to give McCoy and Tillman a workout, Uzodinma is likely to be in the thick of things.

FACTS & FIGURES

Both teams ended last season with bowl losses. Tennessee lost 48-45 in overtime to Purdue in the Music City Bowl. Ball State lost 51-20 to Georgia State in the Camellia Bowl. … Hendon Hooker came off the bench to earn the starting quarterback job for Tennessee. Now he goes into his second year as the starter poised to improve on 2,945 yards, 31 TDs and only three interceptions. … The Cardinals’ returning offensive line has accounted for 56 starts, led by LG Damon Kaylor … In 10 games against current Southeastern Conference teams, Ball State has yet to have a victory. … Tennessee will be unveiling some changes to Neyland Stadium in this game, including new videoboards in each end zone and a new deck area in the north end similar to a sports bar.

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