Preview: No. 25 Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

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    No. 25 Tennessee (9-4 in 2016) vs. Georgia Tech (9-4 in 2016)

    Monday, Sept. 4th, 8 p.m. ET

    Mercedes Benz Stadium (75,000+) • Atlanta, GA

    TV: ESPN

    Series Record: Tennessee 24-17-2

     Setting the table

    Tennessee and Georgia Tech used to be bitter rivals and played almost annually when Georgia Tech was still in the SEC. From 1946 to 1987. the two teams played nearly ever season, and Tennessee worked their way to a 24-17-2 edge over the Yellow Jackets. But then Georgia Tech abruptly left the SEC, and the rivalry fizzled to an end. The two teams haven’t played each other in three decades, but they’ll renew their rivalry on Monday when they take center stage in Atlanta in front of over 75,000 fans in the new Mercedes Benz Stadium and hundreds of thousands more who are watching at home.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    Tennessee’s quarterback position has been talked about ad nauseam ever since Josh Dobbs graduated and was drafted into the NFL. Both Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano could very likely see the field in this one, but barring a catastrophic outing from either, the Vols should have the edge with whomever is under center. Tech’s passing defense was only slightly better than Tennessee’s last year, and it doesn’t figure to be much better this year. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Tennessee runs…

    The Vols know what they have with John Kelly as their main running back. Kelly showed intensity and the ability to shed defenders with a gritty running style time and time again last season, and Georgia Tech’s mediocre run defense should have trouble stopping him as long as Tennessee’s offensive line does a good enough job opening up lanes for Kelly to run through. But what do the Vols have behind Kelly? Tennessee’s backups behind Kelly are filled with question marks, even if those question marks do have a high upside. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee 

    When Georgia Tech throws…

    Georgia Tech does throw the ball, despite what you may have heard. And they can be very successful at it when they do, especially when it comes to completing deep passes. Matthew Jordan figures to get the start at quarterback for the Yellow Jackets, and not much is known about his actual passing ability. But Tech’s offense is still predicated around running the ball, so don’t expect to see many passes regardless. But the Vols can’t let Tech get explosive plays through the air when they do pass it, and a beleaguered secondary from last year can’t rest on their laurels in this game. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Georgia Tech runs…

    Georgia Tech’s flexbone/triple-option offense is difficult to defend for any team. No matter what you do, Tech will likely plow their way to at least a decent showing on the ground. And for a Tennessee defense that was torched by rushing attacks last season, this match-up has to be worrying. The Vols will give up yards to Tech’s potent rushing attack, the question is just how many yards will they allow? Edge: Georgia Tech

    On special teams…

    Georgia Tech’s J.J. Green returned a kickoff for a touchdown against Pittsburgh last season, but the Yellow Jackets’ special teams were otherwise fairly silent in the return game last year. Tech doesn’t have a significantly impressive punter, and they have yet to decide on a starting kicker (much like the Vols). Tennessee has an advantage in every realm of special teams, especially since Evan Berry is back and healthy to return kicks. Edge: Significantly to Tennessee 

     Best-case scenario for UT 

    The Vols come out, take care of business, and don’t get burned too badly by Tech’s option offense. If Tennessee’s defense comes out and has a strong showing in this game, especially when it comes to stopping the run, that could be the type of confidence boost Bob Shoop’s unit needs to start the year. Tennessee also can’t afford any more injuries, so keeping players healthy, especially along the defensive line, would be big for the Vols.

     Worst-case scenario for UT

    Tennessee hasn’t lost a season opener since they dropped the first game of the season in 2008 to UCLA. A loss to Georgia Tech doesn’t necessarily spell disaster for the Vols, but it would likely send a large portion of the fan base into a panic. And a loss would immediately dash all hopes of a solid season, even if that would be premature thinking. All hype would be gone unless the Vols were to go on the road in Gainesville and defeat the Gators a couple weeks after this game. But a loss, especially a decisive one, would put a major damper on the start of an already low-key start to the season.

     How we think it’ll play out

    The Vols will be tested once again early in the season. Georgia Tech is a difficult team to prepare for on defense, but it should help that Tennessee has had all summer and fall to get ready for the Yellow Jackets’ unique offense. It likely won’t be easy, but the Vols have the talent edge for sure. It may come down to coaching unless the Vols can open up a big lead early.

    Our picks:

    Nathanael: 37-31 UT
    Will: 27-17 UT
    34-17 UT
    24-21 UT

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.