Can you believe it? We are actually here. You are actually reading words that relate to a meaningful Tennessee Volunteers football game.
Even though the Vols take on the Georgia State Panthers in a less-than-thrilling season opener, there’s still plenty of reason to be excited for the first game of the year.
A top-12 recruiting class, a new offensive coordinator, and the possibility of a bounce-back year under Jeremy Pruitt are just a few of the top storylines to watch for as the season rolls on.
But what should you watch for against the Panthers?
Go ahead and kick back, relax, fire up the monitor, and find out here.
1. Offensive/Defensive Play Calling
The Vols brought in Jim Chaney to run the offense and Derrick Ansley to take over as defensive coordinator during the offseason. Both coaches have a lot of experience coaching in the SEC and have been very successful as well, which should bode well for this program in the long run.
Chaney will call the plays on offense and Ansley will do the same on defense — to an extent. Pruitt actually stated that he’ll have “final say” and will “change a call” on defense if he deems it necessary, but at the end of the day, Ansley will be the primary play-caller.
This offense should look a lot different under Chaney. The more impactful players will get more looks and the offense will be more suited for the unit’s strengths. Ansley and Pruitt both worked together during the 2016-2017 seasons at Alabama, so there likely won’t be much change on defense. It’s also the first game of the season - and it’s not an important one, schedule-wise - so the calls are likely to be a bit more vanilla than they would against a Georgia or Alabama.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see how each unit performs under its new leadership.
2. Offensive/Defensive Line
There are so many questions surrounding both of these position groups. The Vols don’t even know who will get the most playing time on the offensive line, which is evidenced by the fact that they will rotate 8-10 players per game.
Trey Smith’s potential return is something to watch for as well. If he can play on Saturday, then not only will it be big/great news, but the Panthers would represent a great opportunity for him to begin his march back toward becoming the player he was in 2016.
The defensive line, on the other hand, needs someone to step up in a big way after Emmitt Gooden was lost for the year a few weeks ago. Now that Aubrey Solomon has been cleared to play, he is the likely candidate to lead the defensive line.
But he can’t do it alone. Players like Greg Emerson, Kingston Harris, Darrel Middleton, Elijah Simmons, and others need to also have a hand in wreaking havoc up front.
This will be our first, real glimpse of these position groups. A good performance is expected against a lesser opponent and will help build confidence going forward.
3. Henry To’oto’o
To’oto’o has drawn rave reviews throughout fall camp and has been penciled in as one of the starters among the inside linebackers. Tennessee’s second-best recruit in the 2019 class has lived up to the expectations that surrounded him coming into the program.
But there’s a wrinkle that includes To’oto’o on Saturday, and that’s the absence of fellow starting inside linebacker Daniel Bituli, who will likely miss the first couple of weeks after having knee surgery a few days ago.
One has to wonder if To’oto’o will be responsible for organizing the defense and making the calls on defense. Also, will he be an every-down linebacker? Will he be asked to drop into coverage? Will the Vols send him on a blitz(es)?
The biggest key is for To’oto’o to stay healthy on Saturday, but it will be a blast watching him run around the field and make plays.