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Who, What And Why To Watch When UT Takes On Georgia Tech Tonight

Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve made it. Some of us are nervous to have made it, but we’ve made it. Some of us want our coach fired, some of us the rest of us to shut up about getting our coached fired, but we all want to win.

Tennessee faces an unusual challenge in Georgia Tech’s flexbone, triple option, misdirection and Lord knows what else offense, but we’ve been waiting all offseason and if we’re ready, the Vols should be too. Here’s a checklist of things to keep in mind for tonight.

Who to watch

Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano: We’ve been told long enough now that both quarterbacks will take snaps, so it’s time to see it. How long will the starting quarterback go before Butch Jones switches things up? We haven’t seen him operate a two-quarterback system before, so keep your eye on his rotation habits as things go badly, well and everywhere in the middle. Will the quarterbacks spread it out or lean on experienced guys like Jauan Jennings and Tyler Byrd? Rhythm is key for both guys tonight.

Colton Jumper: He’s back and here to stay, folks. Darrin Kirkland Jr. is out for the season, which means Vol Nation’s favorite linebacker is in the starting rotation for good this season. No one can harp on Jumper for his effort last season, but he’s looked out-talented and out-matched on more than a few occasions. Against Georgia Tech’s misdirection and run-heavy offense, he has to attack the point of plays and stay disciplined. More on linebackers later.

Nigel Warrior: Warrior was listed as the team’s starting strong safety on the Vols’ first depth chart. He’s plenty talented, but he’ll need to be more mentally focused tonight than he has been in his short Tennessee career. His double-duty role of run support and eye discipline against the many motions and formations the Yellow Jackets throw at him will be key for Tennessee’s secondary to have success tonight.

What to watch

Tennessee’s linebackers… and defensive line… and defense: The importance of physicality in tonight’s game can’t be overstated. Georgia Tech is going to have Tennessee misaligned at times tonight. It’s what the Yellow Jackets do, and the Vols haven’t seen it under Butch Jones yet. Don’t fret, though, because if the defensive front is as physical as it can be, those big plays will come when Georgia Tech is way behind the sticks. A lack of linebacker depth is really going to hurt the Vols late in the game, so setting a strong tone early and settling in is of the utmost importance. Keep your eyes on the defensive tackle rotation to see if Shy Tuttle sneaks in at some point in the game.

The Vols’ receiving rotation: Butch Jones and staff haven’t been shy on praising freshman Josh Palmer, who earns a co-starting role with sophomore Brandon Johnson. Both of those guys have high ceilings, and Palmer is creating a buzz edging towards Marquez North-like talent levels. His hands are good, folks. Outside of Jennings and Tyler Byrd, who can be a dependable target tonight? Look for speedy Latrell Williams in the slot and Marquez Callaway to help out.

Tennessee’s tempo: Butch Jones said on Wednesday that the Vols’ wouldn’t go away from their face-tempo offense, but I’d be curious to see if that changes in the second half if the Yellow Jackets are dominating time of possession. Again, Tennessee’s defensive front needs to find a healthy rotation late in the game. If that rotation is gassed, the Vols might slow things down in the second half. If that happens, Dormady or Guarantano will be under even more pressure to take care of the football.

Why to watch

It’s the season opener, duh: Football is back. Enjoy it. Embrace it. Love it. Try not to break things if it goes bad. Save your couches, folks. This is a look at the Vols’ young talent for the next few years at pretty much every position. You’ll also get a good taste of the new coaching additions tonight: Charlton Warren at defensive backs and special teams coordinator, Brady Hoke on defensive line, Kevin Beard with receivers and Walt Wells with the offense line. All of those are upgrades, but keep tabs on the groups themselves tonight.

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