Let’s put a bow on this Georgia Tech game, shall we? Each week we’ll take a stock report for players that stand out — both good and bad. Sometimes (like this week) we’ll even include a coach. Let’s dive it.
Just when you thought you could stick a fork in the Vols, Marquez Callaway stood up and arrived on the college football scene. Without his three massive plays, Tennessee is 0-1. The interesting thing here is the fact that Callaway wasn’t even listed as a starter coming into the game. He was below Jauan Jennings on the depth chart, but rose to the occasion when his number was called.
Heading into the season there was plenty of talk about who was going to emerge opposite of Jauan Jennings. With Jennings sidelined now for potentially the rest of the year, Callaway is set to assume the number one role.
We all knew that John Kelly was going to be the man for Tennessee in 2017, but he looked like a different guy against Georgia Tech. He was electric, powerful and explosive. I didn’t think his stock could rise much more in the offense, but here we are.
Tennessee didn’t have the ball much at all, so we pretty much saw Kelly exclusively. He ended the game with 19 carries for 128 yards and four scores. That’s a 6.7 average, which will win you plenty of football games. This is why we ranked Kelly our number one most important player heading into this season.
Bituli started in place of Austin Smith and ended up being the best defensive player on the field for the Vols. His impact was felt from the opening snaps of the game. It was obvious very early that Bituli was on another level out there. He ended the game with 23 total tackles and was one of the few bright spots for the defense.
I’m interested to see how Tennessee utilizes Bituli against more traditional offenses going forward. Tennessee plays a nickel base most of the time, which calls for two linebackers. Those were supposed to be Colton Jumper and Cortez McDowell, but I’m not sure how much you can keep Bituli off the field after that performance.
Butch Jones said on Wednesday that Bituli would “compete” for the MIKE linebacker role, so that’s a story to follow on Saturday.
For a guy that Tennessee really needed to step up, Martin gave up two early big plays. The missed tackle on the hitch route was the biggest, as it seemed to get the Yellow Jackets rolling early. The simple fact is that Tennessee needs Martin badly, especially with the hip injury that has slowed Shaq Wiggins. We’ll see if he can get right against Indiana State as we head into Florida week.
For all the talk and preparation, Tennessee was dreadful defensively against Georgia Tech. It brought back too many memories of a wounded Volunteer defense down the stretch in 2016. The fact that this was such a unique offense and challenge makes me feel better about the unit, but the lack of in-game adjustments and constant big plays were frustrating. We still don’t know much about this group, honestly. They were fortunate to get the two timely turnovers, which ended up saving the game.