Every week this season, we’ll take a look at Tennessee’s opponent for the upcoming week. This week’s preview features an old rival, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
After an offseason which seemed like the longest yet, Tennessee plays football this week. The Vols open the 2017 season by renewing an old SEC rivalry with Georgia Tech.
Tennessee and Georgia Tech have squared off 43 times, with the Vols holding a 24-17-2 lead in the series. Even after Georgia Tech left the SEC in 1964, the two teams still met 21 times from 1964-1987.
The game in 1987 was the last meeting between the traditional rivals, a 29-15 Tennessee win in Knoxville. As a native Georgian with personal ties to Tech and Tennessee, I am very excited to see this old Southern rivalry renewed.
Georgia Tech is usually a tough team to predict going into any season.
In 2014, the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish fifth in the ACC Coastal. Tech would go on to win the Coastal and almost defeat Florida State in the ACC Championship Game before soundly beating Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl to finish the year 11-3.
The following season, Tech was picked to win the ACC Coastal and began the season ranked No. 16 in the AP Preseason Top 25. The Jackets would finish 3-9.
And coming off that 3-9 season, Georgia Tech promptly bounced back to 9-4 in 2016 with road wins over Georgia and Virginia Tech and a bowl victory over Kentucky.
The moral of the story is it’s never easy guessing what Georgia Tech will be going into the season.
The Jackets seem to have a pretty good team this year, but the recent dismissal of starting B-Back Dedrick Mills certainly hurts Tech’s offense. Mills led the team in rushing in 2016, despite playing in only nine games due to two different suspensions. In addition, Tech’s 2015 leading rusher Marcus Marshall transferred to James Madison following last season anticipating little playing time behind Mills.
Georgia Tech, like Tennessee, will also be breaking in a new quarterback when the teams meet on Labor Day. Redshirt junior Matthew Jordan seemed to be the favorite after leading the Yellow Jackets to a road win against Virginia Tech in place of the injured Justin Thomas last season, but Jordan has been banged up since spring practice and Paul Johnson has praised Tech’s other options.
Also competing for the job are junior TaQuon Marshall and redshirt freshmen Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones. Paul Johnson has mentioned each of the quarterbacks at different points in fall camp, but look for Jordan or Marshall to take Tech’s first snap against Tennessee.
RB Clinton Lynch - It’s sometimes easy to get lost in the shuffle of Georgia Tech’s rotation of A-Backs - Paul Johnson’s verbiage for the wingbacks in his spread option offense - but Tennessee fans will have their eyes on Lynch all night on Sept. 4.
Lynch rushed for 415 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries and caught 16 passes for 490 yards and six touchdowns last season, an average of more than 17 yards per touch.
WR Ricky Jeune - Despite the notion that Georgia Tech only runs the ball, Paul Johnson has had four receivers selected in the NFL Draft in his nine years at Georgia Tech, including first round pick Demaryius Thomas.
Ricky Jeune is Tech’s current big play threat at 6’3”, 212 pounds. In the last two seasons, Jeune has 49 receptions totaling 947 yards and five touchdowns. He won’t catch eight balls per game, but when he does catch one it’s going to be for a big gain.
SS Corey Griffin - Georgia Tech’s bend-but-don’t-break style of defense relies on a strong secondary to prevent big plays. The Jackets return all four starters in the secondary, including redshirt senior safety Corey Griffin.
Griffin led Tech in tackles in 2016 with 82 and also snagged two interceptions. His presence will be magnified with Tennessee having a quarterback make his first start.
This is really tough to predict. Tennessee probably has more talent than Georgia Tech at most positions, but Paul Johnson gets more out of his players than arguably any coach in the country. Then take into account Tech’s style of offense coupled with Tennessee’s loss of Darrin Kirkland Jr. and the Vols could be in some trouble defensively.
It’s a very intriguing way to open up such a pivotal season for Butch Jones and Tennessee. Expect a very close game on Labor Day.