Georgia Tech will finally kick off the 2017 season this evening with a primetime matchup against the Tennessee Volunteers at the newly-minted Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, but what can we expect from a pair of teams with so many question marks on the offensive side of the ball?
The answer, in case you didn’t know, is that no one has any clue what will happen during week one. Baylor proved as much on Saturday by falling at home to Liberty and Florida State, now 0-1 and without quarterback Deondre Francois, can tell you the same. For that reason, I’m going to go ahead and preview the Jackets and the Volunteers in the safest way possible: not by telling you what will happen, but by telling you what needs to happen for each team to come away with a win. Let’s get underway with some keys to victory for both:
Three keys to victory for Tennessee
- Win the time of possession battle... or at least come close. The extraordinary big-play ability of a Justin Thomas-led offense made the past few seasons major outliers as far as time of possession is concerned, but the teams that have historically had success against Paul Johnson’s option have been those which controlled the pace of the game. The expectation for the 2017 season is a more conservative offensive scheme while a new signal caller gets acclimated to life in the ACC, so preventing the patented Paul Johnson death march will be key for Butch Jones and company.
- Force the quarterback to make reads. We saw teams have great success throwing off Tech’s offensive blocking scheme a season ago with late defensive shifts, but a more experienced line in 2017 means that making life hard for the quarterback is the way to go. If I’m Tennessee, I'm trying to take away the dive on every play to either force bad reads or make an inexperienced quarterback pitch the ball -- something that Matthew Jordan struggled with a season ago.
- Leave your Life Championship rings at home. Coming off of a huge championship win like that could mean that the Vols are sleepwalking into Atlanta. The fact is that it’s all too easy to get comfortable with winning, especially when your next opponent is coached by low-down and dirty Paul “hide your ACLs” Johnson. In the Life Championship that should be a blowout, right? Pure Butch Jones versus a team of ravenous knee-marauders? We all know so, but don’t get too comfortable.*
Three keys to victory for Georgia Tech
- Fix that leaky Roof. Though the Vols will be breaking in a new quarterback of their own, the truth is that Butch Jones’ hybrid run-first/spread(ish) offensive system is what nightmares are made of for defensive coordinator Ted Roof. We’ve spent plenty of time over the past few years watching the likes of Clemson and UNC dominate the line of scrimmage on early-down running plays that set up easy conversions. That can’t happen this time around.
- Get production from the A-Back position. Though it was hardly the most successful unit a season ago, Tennessee’s defense is talent-laden and full of upper classmen on the two-deep. Tech needs to keep those guys off balance consistently by getting quality production in both the passing and running game from the A-Backs; missing Clinton Lynch will hurt, but Qua Searcy and company are more than capable of carrying the torch.
- Play it safe with the quarterback, whoever it may be. If you know anything at all about Paul Johnson, you’ll know that this one is a given. Tech has a serious dearth of experience at the quarterback position and week one of the season is not the time for experimentation, particularly against an SEC opponent. Give me a conservative gameplan that will control the pace and limit turnovers, much like we saw versus Virginia Tech last season.
Expect an exciting game in front of a raucous crowd regardless of the final product — the fact is that the Volunteers and Yellow Jackets don’t get to play nearly enough given how geographically close the two schools are. There are plenty of fun and entertaining storylines to follow as we draw closer to kickoff (anyone care to name a starting quarterback?), so be sure to stay tuned in to our coverage of the start of the 2017 football season on the Flats!