Welcome to the first installment of our Opponent Q&A series. Every week, we’ll check in with the SBNation blog of our opponent to get some insight from them into what the game ahead holds and some opposing perspective.
For this inaugural week, we’re cheating a little bit. You may recognize my interviewee, Conner, as being one of the writers here. We’re interviewing him because he writes for both us and Tennessee’s SBNation blog, Rocky Top Talk. Conner grew up a Georgia Tech fan, but he is currently in school at UT. Is he going to be confused on Monday? Yes.
Conner, first off, who are you even cheering for in this game?
That’s a complicated question.
I’m sitting in the Tennessee student section, so I will probably be wearing orange. But as a lifelong Tech fan and not a fan of Butch Jones, I would definitely be happy to see a Yellow Jacket victory. But I will leave Mercedes-Benz Stadium both happy and sad either way.
From reading Rocky Top Talk and other Tennessee blogs and local papers, they all feel pretty confident in a Volunteer victory Monday night. What’s the biggest reason for the confidence?
I think when fans simply hear the names “Tennessee” and “Georgia Tech,” many don’t realize how good Tech has been. And as is the case with most things, I’m not sure how representative the loudest voices are of the group on the whole. I think many UT fans realize this is going to be a very close game.
How impactful will be the various injuries and suspensions UT has faced this preseason? Will the absences Darrin Kirkland and Josh Smith be noticeable?
Those will definitely be huge.
Starting middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. had meniscus surgery on Wednesday and will be out for the foreseeable future. Receiver Josh Smith was originally thought to have a broken collarbone, but it turned out to be a sprained AC joint and he now might play against Tech. Offensive tackle Drew Richmond has also been suspended for the game. The loss of Kirkland will be the most noticeable with the Vols playing against Paul Johnson’s offense.
To what degree is Butch Jones coaching for his job this season? And how much does the outcome of Monday night’s game affect that?
That is the most subjective question you could ask a Tennessee fan. Some think Jones should have been fired after losing to South Carolina and Vanderbilt and blowing the SEC East and others think he has done a great job getting Tennessee back to relevance and it is ridiculous to talk about firing him.
But if Tennessee loses to Georgia Tech, the talk around Knoxville is going to get very loud. And if the Vols lose to Florida and begin the season 1-2, it’s going to get deafening.
Personally, I have likened Butch Jones to former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson. Woodson took the Hawks from an awful team to a perennial playoff team, but that was the extent of it. Butch Jones has taken Tennessee from very bad to respectable, but maybe 8-4 is simply what Jones is as a football coach.
From a Tennessee fan’s perspective, what matchup gives you the most concern this weekend?
Paul Johnson vs. Butch Jones.
With the exception of Clinton Lynch, who it does not appear will play, I think Tennessee has equal or better athletes at just about every position. But on the sidelines, it’s a head coaching mismatch in Georgia Tech’s favor.
Paul Johnson is great at in-game adjustments and I don’t have much trust in Butch Jones as an in-game coach. However, Tennessee overhauled its staff in the offseason and some think the assistants will be doing more of the work this season.
And finally, how do you see this one going? What’s the final score?
I’ve gone back and forth on this so many times. We’ve all seen how Tech’s offense works at its best - a B-Back who wears down a defense and an A-Back who can then bust one for a long gain. Without Dedrick Mills and now possibly Clinton Lynch, I think that really hinders Tech’s ability to win this game. However, I still think it is going to be a close game that is decided in the fourth quarter.
Tennessee 31, Georgia Tech 28
Thanks to Conner for taking the time to be interviewed by the site he writes for about the other team he writes about.