Its been a crazy
opening weekend for college football. Georgia and Florida State both
lost their starting quarterbacks. Unranked Maryland, a three
touchdown underdog, upset #23 Texas 51-41. And Howard, a
40-some point underdogs, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the
history of the sport late Saturday night, with a 43-40 road win at
UNLV. Liberty University, who is leaving the Big South Conference
after this season, shocked Baylor on the road, 48-45. They were so
thrilled, the school cancelled classes. And Texas A&M blew a
34-point lead to lose 45-44 to UCLA.
So, how do you top all that? Just take a look around and realize you're
finally sitting in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium to cover the
nightcap of the weekend doubleheader of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff
Classic. Alabama beat Florida State two days earlier to start things
off. Tennessee and Georgia Tech will try to give the weekend a
Both teams are coming in a bit weakened. Volunteer fans are apprehensive
about this season. Tennessee enters 2017 ranked 25th
facing a Yellow Jackets team on a three game SEC win streak. Head
coach Paul Johnson beat Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt to
finish last season.
On paper, the Yellow Jackets would seem like a bad matchup for the
Volunteers, who were terrible against the run last season, ranking
70th in rushing yards allowed per game. They were 94th in rushing
touchdowns given up. The Vols gave up 1,055 yards and 12 rushing TDs
in their final three SEC games against Kentucky, Missouri and
Vanderbilt. That's what Johnson's triple option offense does best.
Tech was 9th in the nation in rushing yards per game and 10th in
rushing per game TDs. They were also ranked third in the country in
offensive explosiveness, striking for big plays numerous times while
the opponent focused on stopping the run.
Then, there are injuries, which seem to be an annual staple of Butch
Jones coached teams. Star linebacker Darrin Kirkland, Jr.
just suffered a meniscus injury. He had surgery Wednesday and won't play. He'll be tough to
replace as will Chance Hall, who will undergo knee surgery and is
out for the season. Also out for the year is senior wide receiver
Jacquez Jones, gone with a knee injury.
Jones also announced Wednesday that redshirt sophomore offensive tackle
Drew Richmond will be suspended for the Georgia Tech game due
to a violation of team rules.
Both teams will be showcasing new quarterbacks. For Tennessee, they
won't have the dynamic Josh Dobbs, now with the Pittsburgh
Steelers in the NFL. Jones waited until game time to announce that
Dormady would be starting over Jarrett Guarantano. How the
untested QB performs on the big stage could be a key to who comes
out on top. Whoever it is would be working with John Kelly in the
backfield with an aerial target of Jauan Jennings.
Given all that, most experts are picking the Vols to win the game,
listing them as a three point favorite. They have played in this
game once before (2012) with this being the first for the home town
A big reason is that quarterback question. Josh Thomas was
probably the best player ever to run Johnson's offense at Tech. He's
gone now and redshirt junior TaQuon Marshall was a last
minute announcement at starter with junior Matthew Jordan expected to see some time as well.
But Johnson would later say that he had made that decision a few
Many saw the Jackets' chances diminish two weeks ago when they released
their star back from last season, Dedrick Mills, for a
violating a team policy. Johnson has named KirVonte Benson as
starting b-Back. But, third string true freshman Jerry Howard
may flourish and take over that role as the season progresses.
Qua Searcy should get some action when the ball is in the air.
Early indications are that the Tennessee side of the stadium was filled
well before game time while the Tech side was only about 75%
occupied 15 minutes before kickoff. Some in the press box speculated
that Tech fans were still outside tailgating. But, 75,107 was
announced making it the 4th highest attended in kickoff game
Tech won the toss and, as usual, deferred to the second half. Evan
Berry returned the opening kick out to the 40. TB John Kelly
carried it for seven followed by a 5 yard catch by Jennings
for a first down at the 48. That's as far as they got.
Tech began their drive at their 18 and went three and out. Field position
was helped when the 35 yard Pressley Harvin punt rolled an
extra 20 to the TV18. The defense held them to nine forcing a 47
yard punt to the GT 29. Three and out again with a 48 yard punt to
The Vols again went three and out. A combined total of 30 yards of
offense in the game's first five drives. A booming 70 yard Trevor
Daniel punt forced Brad Stewart out at the GT16.
Tech got their first first down of the game on a Benson
16 yard run up the middle to the 41. But a bad toss resulted in a 9
yard loss bringing up a third and 12. Then, the firsts big play as
Ricky Jeune caught one on the Vol sideline and ran for a 44
yard gain to the TV21. Benson got 6 for a third and 2 at the TV13.
Marshall fell forward to the ten for a first and goal. A handoff to
Benson put the ball at the one. Two plays later, Marshall dove
across the goal line for the game's first points and a Georgia Tech
7-0 lead. Twelve plays covering 86 yards in 6:51.
But, Berry put his team in a good spot with a 51 yard return to the GT45
as the first quarter came to a close. Ethan Wolfe got things
started snatching what looked like a 30 yard catch but had it
overruled on further review. A completion to Kelly came up four
yards short with the good field position squandered with still just
19 yards of offense. But that gave them a shot to pin the Jackets
deep and that's what they did with the punt downed at the five.
Searcy got them some breathing room with a 12 yard rush to the 22. On a
third and 7, Marshall hit Stewart for 15 to the 40. The Volunteers
finally got a break when Daniel Bituli forced a fumble for
the game's first turnover, recovered by Cortez McDowell at
This time, the good field position wasn't squandered as RB Ty Chandler
picked up 7 to the 39 with a completion to Jennings for a first
down. Kelly rushed for 22 to the 12. On a big third and five at the
GT7, they got another first down at the one then tied the score as
Kelly dove over the top. The short field of just 46 yards was
covered in 8 plays in 2:30.
A touchback put the Yellow Jackets at their 25. Then they ran off a
prototypical Paul Johnson drive. Benson got seven tough yards up the
middle with a Marshall dive getting the first down at the GT37. A
toss left to Benson added nine. Benson got another first on a carry
to midfield, then six more to the TV44. Another first at the 40. The
QB got it to the 31 then fell forward for another first at the 28.
Marshall fell back planning to throw but saw an opening to the left
side and scampered for 12 to the 18. The game moved into the final
two minutes of the half with a third and three looming. Johnson
took a time out stopping the clock at 1:29. But a review moved
the ball back to the 15 to make it third and 9 at the 15. Marshall
took it to the corner and got what he needed for a first and goal at
the five. Benson pushed it to the one with 1:15 left in the half. On
the next play, the back bulled his way across for his first career
touchdown to give the Jackets a two TD lead with just over a minute
remaining. The long 70 yard drive used up 7 minutes with 16 plays.
Tennessee could only manage 23 yards before turning it over on downs at
midfield. Tech took a 14-7 lead into the locker room at the half.
Johnson had played the game exactly the way he likes it with Tech
keeping the ball for 21:17 to Tennessee's 08:43. They also lead in
total offensive yards 226 to 94. Not helping Tennessee was the
announcement that WR James would not return in the second half.
Tech got the ball to start the second half at their 20. With that much
time on the field, you had to wonder how tired the Volunteer defense was
getting. Benson picked up a first down at the 30 with Marshall
getting another on a 14 yard keeper. Five more yards and another
first down into UT territory at the 46. Another pair of Benson
rushes got a first down at the 34. Marshall escaped several
defenders as he maneuvered to the right, the crossed field to the 7.
With that, his 23rd carry, the QB topped the 100 yard mark for the
day. A toss sweep to Searcy got to the one. Not liking something he
saw, Johnson called a heated time out. On the next play, Marshall
dove across the goal line to make it 21-7. Another perfectly cast
drive going 80 yards in 11 plays eating up 5:36 of clock.
Tennessee got the ball after a touchback for their first drive of the
half at their 25. But the defense again held them to three and out.
Steward fair caught the 51 yard punt at his 15.
A toss to Nate Cottrel almost went the distance as the speedy back
hustled all the way to the TV47. Marshall got 14 on a pair of
carries to the 43. After a penalty, the QB picked up six for a third
down at the 30. After an incomplete pass, Johnson took his second
time out. Shawn Davis was brought in for a 47 yard field goal
attempt that went wide left. That would have put them up by three
Tennessee got a quick 7 on a completion to Josh Palmer with
Dormady getting a first on a carry to their 44. Another hit
Brandon Johnson at the 49. They converted with Wolfe getting 14
to the GT35. What looked like a missed tackle and Kelly was off to
the races for 30 for a first and goal at the five. A false start
moved it back five. A pass to the right corner saw Marquez
Callaway get them right back in it 21-14. Their best drive of
the night took just 7 plays to move 70 yards in 2:32.
The Jackets, who had held momentum for most of the last 20 minutes,
needed to get it back, taking over at their 25. A quick Quaide
Weimerskirch carry got them a first down putting the ball at the
35 as the game entered the final quarter. Tech needed another long
clock eating drive that produced points. Cottrell got things started
with 14 to midfield. Marshall almost overthrew a sprinting Searcy
who pulled it down 42 yards downfield for a first and goal at the
seven. Marshall darted to the right pylon for a six yard TD run, his
third of the game. They got their point producing drive. It just
didn't eat up as much clock, just 2:34. But, more importantly, the
Yellow Jackets had their 14 point lead back, 28-14. Time of
possession, 33:48 to 14:04.
The Volunteers began their drive at their 39. They got 10 yard Kelly
catch to the 50. But, Callaway made Austin Smith miss and
sped down the sidelines to make it a game again, 28-21. That drive
took just 1:15 to go 61 yards.
With still 11:49 left in the game, that time consuming point producing
drive was needed again. Not helping was a great kick that pinned
Tech at their 13. Marshall got things moving with a first down carry
to the 24. The QB came out of the game with Matthew Jordan taking
his place On the next play, Marshall returned for a third an d
three at the 29. They couldn't convert giving the ball back after a
short 36 yard punt. A hyped up Tennessee squad had the ball in good
field position at their 36 with plenty of tie (8:49) down by just
They got 4 on a Callaway catch. But the defense held. But Tech was again
back up deep in their own territory at their 11 with 8:00 on the
clock. After a four yard carry, the clock stopped at 7:46 as
Kendall Vickers was helped off the field. Cottrell ran out of
bounds at the 24 with another first to the 24. Marshall burst free
for 27 more to the TV46 with the clock ticking to under 6 minutes.
Then, a potential game changer as JJ Green fumbled after a
nice carry. UT's Micah Abernathy recovering at their 7. At
least they had a long field with just over 4 minutes to go and a
chance to tie.
A holding call on Desmond Branch gave them a new set of downs at
their 21. A big third and four from the 27 was converted with a
Kelly catch at the 33. The clock stopped at 2:42. Dormady tossed a
bomb for 40 up the middle with Callaway coming down at the 22. Kelly
shook a few tackles for 16 more to the 11. On the next play, the
game was tied as Kelly made it to the promised land. 28-28 with 1:29
to go and overtime looking likely.
Fourteen points off a pair of turnovers. Tech had a chance with the ball
at their 25 and just over a minute remaining. Marshall looked like
he wanted to throw but saw green and took off for 19 to the 44.
Another first down with a catch by Jeune at the TV45 with 0:57 and
ticking. Stewart caught it for 8 at the 37. No one was within 10
yards of Searcy as the ball sailed way over his head into the end zone.
0:25 to go as Jones took his first time out. That gave Johnson time
to call the next two plays. Tech got a first down at the 30 then saw
Marshall escape tackles to run out at the 24 with 10 seconds
remaining. Marshall ran it to the center of the field as Johnson
took his final time out. Three seconds on the clock. The ball on the
19. In came Davis to try from 36. Jones decided to ice the kicker
and took his second time out. He did it again but could do it no
more. Fans on both sides had their hands on their heads. Angst in
orange. Angst in gold. The kick was blocked. Two missed field goals
and two turnovers sent the game went to OT.
Tennessee won the toss and chose defense so they would know what they
needed to do after Tech's turn. Per overtime rules, the offense gets
the ball on their 25.
Cottrell rushed for 12 and a new set of downs at the 13. Marshall got six
more to the 7. A huge third and three at the four saw Benson convert
at the one. Marshall put it in for a big TD, his fourth of the game.
Tennessee now had to score a touchdown of their own or it would be
Ormandy got a quick six to the 19. Kelly made it all but official
barreling to the one. He was stopped on the next play. The clock
stopped as Kyle Serge-Henderson was hurt on the play. On
review, they gave them the TD to tie it at 35.
Double overtime with Tennessee starting on offense, again at their 25. A
toss to Callaway got a first down at the 9. A pass interference call
on Step Durham put the ball at the two. Kelly gave the Voles
their first lead of the game 42-35. The Jackets now were the ones
needed a touchdown to tie.
Marshall got it to the 21. Then to the 17. Third and two. Benson for a
first down at the 13. Weaving past would be tackles, Marshall got
his fifth TD of the game. Johnson lined his team up to do or die and
go for two. Jones saw it and called a time out to get different
players in. But being a riverboat gambler has its downfalls. And
this was one of them. The play didn't work. Tech had blown two 14
point leads. And Tennessee came away with a 42-41 win.
"That play should have been a walk-in, and we screwed that up, so
we didn't deserve to win," Johnson said of the last play. "They
didn't have enough guys over there, and we tried to reach out and
grab somebody as opposed to releasing inside and clinging the corner
because there's one guy you could have pitched to or run it in
yourself, and we didn't do it. So we didn't make the play, they
Amazingly, Tech held the for 56:27 to their 18:33. They outgained them
655 to 369. Marshall rushed for 249 yards, setting a GT record for
most by any BE in a game, 4th all time by any player in Tech
history. His 5 TDs were the most in school history.
Six Yellow Jackets made their first-career starts: Marshall, Benson, So.
AB Cottrell, Jr. RT Jake Stickler, Jr. DT Branch and Jr. DE
Anree Saint-Amour. Six appeared in their first collegiate
games: true-Fr. P Harvin III, true-Fr. LB Jaquan Henderson,
true-Fr. LB Bruce Jordan-Swilling, r-Fr. DB Ajani Kerr,
Jr. HOL Chase Martenson and true-Fr. LB T.D. Roof.
In the end, the fans of both schools came away having watched a great
game. Twenty-two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Records were tied or
broken during the Tennessee-Georgia Tech Game. But, in the end it was the two turnovers and two missed field
goals that clearly made the
difference. One team is 1-0, the other 0-1.
On the kicking game, Johnson suggested that maybe Davis lost his job.
"Try a different kicker, I guess. You know, it was disappointing.
Either of those field goals ices the game, too. The one at the end
of the game is 36 yards. He kicked that thing head high, you know,
the kickoff, so you know, we'll give the other kid a chance and see
what he does."
The Jackets have to shake it off with a short week and their home opener
Saturday at 12:30 against Jacksonville State.