Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee redshirt junior quarterback Joe Milton scores the first touchdown of the Josh Heupel era on a 10-yard run at the 10:25 mark of the opening quarter.

Updated with more information at 12:45 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2021.

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee had the Southeastern Conference football spotlight to itself Thursday night on the SEC Network and made the most of it with a 38-6 thumping of Bowling Green inside Neyland Stadium.

A lethargic second quarter by the Volunteers will prevent any comparisons to Alabama anytime soon.

As the first SEC program to kick off its 2021 season, the Vols displayed an up-tempo attack synonymous with Josh Heupel offenses. Tennessee's first two drives were comprised of 20 plays for 133 yards and culminated with touchdown runs by quarterback Joe Milton and running back Jabari Small.

The Vols ran only seven plays for 13 yards in the second quarter, but backup running back Tiyon Evans ignited a pair of touchdown drives in the third quarter to put the Mid-American Conference foe away. Small had 22 rushes for 116 yards and two touchdowns, while Evans had 16 for 116 and scored once.

Tennessee outgained Bowling Green on the ground 326-32.

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Tennessee vs. Bowling Green

"I'm excited about the win, but we have a ton of ways we can and are going to need to improve out of this football game," Heupel said after winning his debut as Tennessee's coach. "I thought defensively that we played with passion and with effort and with energy and that we tackled relatively well in space. Offensively, there were times that we were clicking and played efficiently, and then there were times when we didn't operate as efficiently as we can.

"We had to go play a game. This is a 12-week journey, and this is week one, year one. I told the guys to enjoy it tonight, because it's been seven months of hard work, but at the same time, we can be a whole lot better."

Milton was 11-of-23 passing for 140 yards, with 40 of that on a touchdown strike to Cedric Tillman with 5:11 remaining.

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"There were a couple times I didn't like his decision making," Heupel said. "There were a couple times we had guys running open down the middle of the field that he didn't recognize and see."

Said Milton: "We'll get better. There are a lot of things to clean up as an offensive unit, and we'll get it done for sure."

There was no feasting on cupcakes last year due to the SEC's league-only schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic, and the Falcons offered a needed remedy for a program seeking to rebound from last year's 3-7 debacle. The Vols next will host Pittsburgh out of the Atlantic Coast Conference at noon on Sept. 11 (ESPN).

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.