The Tennessee Vols escaped their season opener against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets with a double overtime win.
Around halftime of the Tennessee Vols’ season opening victory over Georgia Tech, I thought the sky was falling.
I was perplexed at why Butch Jones hadn’t replaced a relatively ineffective Quinten Dormady with Jarrett Guarantano. I was frustrated because of Tennessee’s offense and Georgia Tech’s time consuming drives.
But the Vols, as they often did last season, recovered late in the game and somehow willed themselves to a thrilling victory.
After the game, I was kind of at a loss. What had we just seen?
Obviously there were some questions, which have since been compounded by the loss of returning leading wide receiver Jauan Jennings. But there were also some positives. The will to win is something you can’t find a box for on a stat sheet, but it’s easily the most important component for any team. I think Tennessee has shown many times they have that will to win.
(Though it would help to avoid getting behind by two touchdowns early in the game, but I digress.)
So what should we think of the Vols after the first week of the season?
Unfortunately, I don’t think we learned as much as I hoped we would in week one.
We already knew running back John Kelly is a beast. He just further proved that on Monday night. We did learn that wide receiver Marquez Callaway and true freshmen offensive lineman Trey Smith are going to be studs for Tennessee this season. But beyond that? Well, there’s still a lot to be learned.
After sitting on this game for a day or so, however, I feel cautiously optimistic about the Vols moving forward.
I didn’t realize just how much Georgia Tech would take Tennessee out of their natural rhythm. When you’re breaking in a new offense, and quarterback, rhythm is everything. When the Vols were able to find some rhythm in the fourth quarter, and overtime, we saw an offense that can put some points on the board and move the ball down the field.
Dormady showed potential at quarterback. He remained poised, even when Tennessee was down by 14 points in the fourth quarter. Mechanically, he has a lot of issues. Hopefully that’s something quarterbacks coach Mike Canales can work out.
Callaway and Kelly bailed out Dormady on several occasions, but it’s important to remember it was his first career start. I think he’ll get better, but I’d still like to see what Jarrett Guarantano has to offer.
Defensively, it was hard to take much from this game. I know Justin Martin can’t continue to be a starter for this team. He’s too much of a liability at cornerback. I would like to see true freshman Shawn Shamburger get some playing time. Tennessee’s had a lot of luck with freshman cornerbacks under Butch Jones (Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley), so they might as well give it a shot with Shamburger.
Colton Jumper and Daniel Bituli racked up a massive amount of tackles on Monday night (Jumper 18 and Bituli 23), but those numbers were a bit inflated because of Georgia Tech’s run heavy offense. I still liked what I saw from both of them. Jumper actually displayed pretty decent sideline to sideline speed. I’m not sure how that speed will hold up against Georgia or Alabama, but I still thought his performance against the Yellow Jackets was a positive.
At the end of the day, Monday night’s game against Georgia Tech was basically a “survive and advance” game. And that’s exactly what Tennessee did. It wasn’t pretty, and it was quite painful, but it was a W in the win/loss column. And that’s what ultimately matters the most.
Tennessee gets to take on Indiana State this weekend. Typically I hate these games. But this is one that’s important for the Vols. Yes we know they’re going to win, but the Vols will actually get to play their type of game against Indiana State. We will get a better look at Larry Scott’s offense and what this Tennessee team can do.
And we should also get our first look at Guarantano, who will almost certainly see some extended time on Saturday.
Every season offers new hope. Right now, the Volunteers have a clean slate and a 1-0 record. Anything is possible.
So let’s do our best to enjoy it. Because before you know it, January will be here and college football will be a solid eight months away.