Time: Monday, September 4, 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT
Watch Online: WatchESPN
Spread: Tennessee opened as 6-point favorites. The line was sliced down to 3/3.5.
O/U: The total opened at 63. It was then sliced down to 55.5/56.
September 1, 2008. That was the last time that the Tennessee Volunteers lost a season opener.
On that night, coincidentally on Labor Day as well, the Vols, ranked 18th to start the season, fell in overtime to the UCLA Bruins. Jonathan Crompton was the Tennessee QB that night, and his running backs were Montario Hardesty and Arian Foster. Eric Berry picked up an INT and Robert Ayers and Dan Williams were on the field too.
If it feels like forever ago since the Vols lost a season opener after reading that, we couldn’t blame you. Although they’ve had their ups and certainly their downs, it’s been a safe bet over the years that they’ll win their first game of the season. Granted, their competition has looked like this:
2009: Western Kentucky (who finished 0-12)
2010: FCS Tennessee-Martin
2011: FCS Montana
2012: N.C. State (who finished 7-6)
2013: FCS Austin Peay
2014: Utah State (who finished 10-4)
2015: Bowling Green (who finished 10-4)
2016: Appalachian Stat (who finished 10-3)
So, outside of the 2012 Wolfpack, the Georgia Tech will be just the second Power 5 opponent that the Vols will have opened up with since that 2008 loss in Pasadena.
Nonetheless, Tennessee has a streak that they’re hoping to not see get busted on Monday night in Atlanta.
NEW LOOKS IN ATLANTA FOR GEORGIA TECH, BUT THE TRIPLE OPTION REMAINS THE SAME
Justin Thomas is no longer in Atlanta. Neither is 2016 team leading rusher Dedrick Mills, who was dismissed earlier this offseason. With Marcus Marshall having departed too, the Yellow Jackets are without three of their top rushers from a season ago. They accounted for 2,094 yards and 22 touchdowns just by themselves.
It’s a guessing game right now at QB for Georgia Tech, if their depth chart indicates anything. Paul Johnson isn’t exactly tipping his hand, listing all four QBs as equals. Matthew Jordan could likely get the nod, as he is the most experienced of the group. There’s also fellow junior TaQuon Marshall, who could very well get some reps. Redshirt freshmen Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones may see the field too.
There’s youth aplenty at B-back, with sophomores and freshmen who figure to make an impact Monday night. KirVonte Benson could be a name you see and hear about a lot. There’s also A-back Qua Searcy, a junior who got a decent amount of burn in his sophomore season.
Whatever the case, the Vols will, of course, be looking for one thing: The triple option. It’s what Johnson and Tech have used for years now, and it will be no secret, no matter who is under center.
PLENTY OF NEW FACES FOR THE VOLUNTEERS, TOO
Apart from John Kelly and Jauan Jennings, a majority of the skill players Tennessee will be trotting out are relatively inexperienced. The Vols lost Josh Malone, Alvin Kamara and Jason Croom in the offseason. There are seniors present in tight end Ethan Wolf and wide receiver Josh Smith. But both had limited touches in 2016.
They also have to figure out what they’ll be doing at QB. Quinten Dormady is listed as the starter on the depth chart, but Jarrett Guarantano figures to get some looks in the game. Dormady saw limited action a season ago, throwing 17 passes, 11 for completions, for 148 yards. Guarantano, who was quite hyped coming out of high school, was redshirted.
Butch Jones enters 2017 on something of a hot seat, but his recruiting is probably helping his cause. With youth and inexperience coming into the fold, the Week 1 tilt vs. Georgia Tech should give us an idea of how that talent is progressing. It’ll take some time to retool, but against a Power 5 opponent, they’ll have to be primed and ready to go.
This one’s a very close call. Tennessee has a win probability of just 56%, via Bill Connelly’s preview for the 2017 Volunteers. The projected margin is just 2.6 points. The point spread seems to indicate that action has shifted and a close game is expected.
Given the unknowns on offense on both sides, it figures to be an interesting encounter. Tennessee does have a game-breaking talent in wide receiver Jauan Jennings. It would be especially imperative for whoever is under center to feed Jennings the ball and let him do his thing.
I figure this will be as close as the experts think the game will be.
Tennessee 23, Georgia Tech 20