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Position Group Report Card: Tennessee-Georgia Tech

Tennessee safety Nigel Warrior looks to the sideline during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Monday, Sept. 4, 2017. — Nick Davis/FOX Sports Knoxville

So…that game happened the way that it did.

Despite allowing a school-record 535 rushing yards and numerous early offensive woes, Tennessee escaped Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with a 42-41, double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech on Monday night. At several points during the second half, it appeared as if the Yellow Jackets were going to secure a win in their hometown, but the Vols found a way to somehow leave the state of Georgia with a 1-0 record to begin the 2017 season.

Chaotic games such as this one have seemed to become par for the course for Tennessee over the previous two seasons, so should anyone be that surprised that Monday’s game ended up the way it did?

That being said, let’s take a look at how each position group for the Vols fared in all of this chaos in this season-opening position report card.


The chance that Tennessee was going to have a QB controversy on its hands at some point this season was pretty likely, given the unknowns of coming into the year having to replace one of your most prolific playmakers at the position in school history in Josh Dobbs.

But, oh boy, did we already start to have controversy early in this one.

The Vols started junior Quinten Dormady over redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano against GT, as was the expected move. However, many also expected for Guarantano to see the field at some point in the game. To say Dormady’s stat line for the first half was poor would be a major understatement: just 8-of-20 for 52 yards. Granted, those numbers would’ve looked better if not for the Vols receivers dropping some catchable balls (six total), but many began to wonder when Guarantano would try to give the offense life.

It never happened.

Instead, Dormady remained in the game and had a much-improved second half, tossing two scores to Marquez Callaway (and one to Callaway for 40 yards with 2:23 remaining in the 4th quarter) and showing improved accuracy overall. In his first start, Dormady finished 20-of-37 for 221 yards, two TDs and zero turnovers, which isn’t too bad on paper.

However, Dormady has mechanical issues that need to be worked on, especially his footwork. At first, I thought it was just my eyes adjusting to not seeing someone with the mobility of Josh Dobbs taking snaps for the Vols, but my goodness QD just did not look great dropping back at multiple points in this game.

There’s some things about Dormady that concern me right now, but it’s too early for me to make an overall judgement of what kind of quarterback he is and just who to lay the blame on for some of the things I saw from the passing game tonight. But Dormady improved from a bad half, made crucial throws when he needed to and didn’t turn the ball over.

Grade: C+

Running Backs

It took until Tennessee’s back was against the wall, but John Kelly finally consistently got the football and good things happened.

He was the other offensive MVP for the game along with Callaway, rushing for 128 yards on 19 attempts and four scores. Vol fans got a good dose of what Kelly is capable of last season, but now he looks to be shining in the starting role.

He did his usual tough runs where he would shed off would-be tacklers for big gains and touchdowns while showing great bursts of speed and physicality. This guy is good, we know this. I have no clue why he didn’t get more touches than he did but that lies on Larry Scott and Butch Jones.

The only other running back to have a rushing attempt was true freshman Ty Chandler, who took his lone attempt for seven yards. We also need to see more of him in the gameplan.

Overall, Kelly is still good, maybe better than we thought. After a tough first few attempts that didn’t go for much, he ended up being crucial for Tennessee’s win.

Thank you, Chief of Staff.

Grade: A

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

All who thought that Marquez Callaway would be the biggest playmaker for Tennessee on Monday night, please raise your hand.

Nobody? I didn’t think so.

Oh, but what a pleasant surprise this was for the Vols. After your No. 1 receiver, Jauan Jennings, was lost for the game in the first half due to a wrist injury, the offense needed someone to step up on the fly and Callaway did just that, finishing with four receptions for 115 yards and two key touchdowns in the second half.

All four of Callaway’s catches went for either touchdowns or a first down. For a guy who wasn’t even slated as a starter, he’s emerged as your new No. 1 receiver, since the news of Jennings missing up to 12 weeks with a dislocated wrist has just been released as I type this.

Senior tight end Ethan Wolf also showed his toughness as he made important plays throughout the night, finishing with four receptions for 33 yards. Wolf is looking to have his biggest season yet and he didn’t have too bad of a start on Monday.

For all of the good the receiving corps had, though, there was its fair share of bad. As mentioned earlier, there were six drops in the first half, many on some easy balls by Dormady. Tyler Byrd also did not show up in the stat sheet as he recorded no catches. Josh Palmer, whose name received a lot of attention in fall camp, only recorded one reception for seven yards and Brandon Johnson made a couple of good receptions, but nothing spectacular.

There are plenty of good options at receiver for this team. Now, with Jennings maybe done for the year, who takes a bigger role now behind Callaway?

Grade: B

Offensive Line

The offensive line didn’t allow Dormady to be sacked and helped Kelly average 6.7 YPC. Great!

Trey Smith had a very good debut in his first collegiate game, where he did this to a human being:


Other than that, the offensive line did nothing truly spectacular. Although Dormady wasn’t sacked, he was still pressured and forced into bad throws on many occasions. Drew Richmond being suspended certainly did this group no favors, and he’ll be warmly received when he returns. This is supposed to be one of the Vols’ strongest groups and they definitely didn’t show many signs of weakness throughout the night. Dormady didn’t get killed, Kelly had running lanes, they didn’t lose you the game.

Good job guys.

Grade: B

Defensive Line


We knew that Brady Hoke’s group was facing a different task in defending the triple option attack and that they would be tested all night. But watching the defensive line get gashed almost every play for the majority of the game was becoming a given. It was hard for them to close gaps, contain TaQuon Marshall, get any push and just make plays in generally.

That was until they absolutely had to, of course.

Darrell Taylor was the best player on the D-line all night and showed the most consistent play-making ability. When GT opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win in the second overtime, Taylor swarmed to Marshall before he could make a pitch, forcing him to try a desperation pass which hit the ground, ending the game.

It was the best play the defense made all night and it couldn’t have come at a better time. So, thank you Mr. WGWTFA for your clutch stop.

Other than that, this group was really helpless the majority of the night, helping to give up a school record 535 yards on the ground in 86 attempts (just absurd numbers). The group tried to adjust in the second half…by lining up one whole yard off the line of scrimmage? This was most likely to ensure that Tech’s cut-blocking would not be as effective, but it only helped the Jackets to more success on the ground.

Your leading defensive tackle Kendal Vickers also went down during the 4th quarter. Let’s hope it isn’t anything serious, because this group cannot afford to lose starters.

Grade: D+


It’s safe to say that there was a lot of concerns about this group heading into Monday night.

Your best player, Darrin Kirkland Jr., is out for the season and another, Austin Smith, was ruled out for the game after an injury in practice. Depth was scarce and you were facing a team that was going to be coming straight at you on the ground the entire night.

However, the linebackers were the early surprise of the night, making big stop after big stop in the 1st quarter. Daniel Bituli, Colton Jumper and Cortez McDowell were all over the field early on. They ended up being the three leading tacklers for the Vols with 23, 18 and 13 tackles, respectively.

Bituli made a huge play in the 2nd quarter as he stripped TaQuon Marshall of the ball which set up Tennessee’s first scoring drive of the night.

As the game dragged on, though, it was obvious that they began to become exhausted with Georgia Tech’s “Death by A Thousand Paper Cuts” offense getting five and six yards at a time. After the first quarter, Tech just began to dominate the Vols on the ground and stopping them for even a short gain became a tall task.

When it was all over, the linebackers did the best that they could with the cards that were dealt to them and that is at least commendable given their depth situation.

Grade: C-

Defensive Backs

Going into this game, we knew that Tennessee’s secondary was not going to have as big of a role as they would’ve had against basically any other team on the schedule this year. With the style of offense that the Yellow Jackets run, they average just around 12 passes per game and aren’t a team that is going to spread you out and try to pick apart your defensive backs drive after drive.

However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t get suckered in with the play-action and give up a big gain downfield, which is what Paul Johnson loves to do and did several times on Monday.

GT’s TaQuon Marshall may have only had five completions, but they went for 120 yards and it could’ve been much worse for the Vols if he had better accuracy on some of his attempts. The culprit for some big passing gains in the first half was Justin Martin, who was out of position and gave up some back-breaking completions in the first half, including one for 44 yards when the Vols had Georgia Tech backed up on 3rd and 12. Despite having one of the strongest offseasons on the team, it still seems that Martin is plagued by some of the same issues he had last season.

Micah Abernathy gave up a huge 42-yard gain to Qua Searcy early in the 4th quarter that set up a GT touchdown to go up 28-14, although this was more of an amazing grab by Searcy than it was Abernathy’s coverage.

Nigel Warrior had a good first career start on the stat sheet (13 tackles) and did make plays when Tennessee needed him to, but he also had a tendency to be out of position on some big gains on the ground from GT.

But giving credit where it’s due, this group ending up being one of the saviors of the Vols’ night. Rashaan Gaulden knocked the ball out of J.J. Green’s hands just when it looked like Green was going to reel off a huge run with less than five minutes to go in the game. Abernathy recovered the ball at 7-yard line, which then set up the Vols game-tying touchdown drive.

This group does have some promising players, and we’ll definitely know more about them as the Vols play teams that will challenge them more directly.

Grade: C

Special Teams

General Neyland’s sixth Game Maxim was carried out about as well as you’d hope for on Monday as the special teams were undoubtedly the best unit on the team.

While there were no field goal attempts for the Vols (meaning that we still don’t know how Butch Jones will use Aaron Medley with freshman kicker Brent Cimaglia), the team shined in other aspects of special teams play:

  • Evan Berry nearly had another kickoff return for a touchdown that went to Georgia Tech’s 45-yard line at the end of the first quarter.
  • Punter Trevor Daniel was a star again with six punts for an average of 47 yards, including one that went 70 yards.
  • The return coverage teams gave Yellow Jacket returners little breathing room.
  • Walk-on Paul Bain blocked Shawn Davis’ would-be game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation to force overtime.

For a team that gave Vol fans plenty to complain about, one area that did their job well and then some was Tennessee’s special teams.

Grade: A+


The play-calling early on was predictable many times and the offense really struggled to find its groove (nerves from Dormady maybe playing a factor), convert on 3rd down and move the ball consistently. That obviously improved as the game winded down and the Vols were able to find the end zone, so credit to Larry Scott for making good adjustments.

Georgia Tech ran 96 plays and that will wear down your defense, especially one that is lacking key players, but to still give up 535 yards on the ground is a bad look and it shows that Bob Shoop’s defense is still suffering the same problems they were with stopping the run from the end of 2016. As far as scheme on Monday goes, there aren’t many complaints, just players being out of position and not making plays.

Butch Jones and clock management? Les Miles seemed to have a vested interest in last night’s game on Twitter and maybe I see why that was. Questionable usage of timeouts and strategy at different points in the night. For all of the bad luck Jones has had while he’s been at UT, he’s had almost an equal amount of good luck as well and you saw it smile on him last night.

C’s get degrees and last night they got you a nice leather helmet trophy.

Grade: C

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