So while Tennessee was hopeful to have him, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop knew to hedge his bets and has been working Colton Jumper there throughout the entirety. Jumper does not have Kirkland’s athleticism, but he’s tough and assignment sound, and so unless Georgia Tech spreads the field, I don’t think Kirkland will be missed — in this particular game — as much as one might think.
Q: The Tech offense can struggle when faced with physical, active defensive tackles who can get into the backfield and disrupt the timing of the offense. (Though it can probably be said of any offense that physical, active defensive tackles are disruptive.) How is Tennessee in that category?A: This could be the question that ultimately determines the outcome of the game, and it's a bit of a mystery because of what the Vols lost, and the new and improved version they have coming back. Starting defensive ends Corey Vereen and Derek Barnett have moved on, but Tennessee thinks Jonathan Kongbo, Darrell Taylor and Kyle Phillips will be adequate stepping into those roles at defensive end.
Most importantly Tennessee will be much better at defensive tackle than last November, when ive of the top six defensive tackles were sidelined by injuries. Kendal Vickers is a returning senior starter, a junior Reginald McKenzie Jr. is a former 5-star recruit the Vols are still waiting to see blossom.
The key guy here could be junior Shy Tuttle, a fantastic talent who is questionable for the game. Tuttle suffered a knee injury against South Carolina last October, and returning to play a cut-blocking team isn’t exactly the ideal situation. Alexis Johnson is a kid from Atlanta who will be pumped up in the trenches and bears watching at DT.
Q: What’s a reasonable expectation for wins?
A: The bar at Tennessee is set at eight wins, even if this is very much a transition year with a new quarterback and several young players at the skill positions. The Georgia Tech game is one of four "swing" contests that could go either way — Georgia, Florida and LSU are the others. It's hard to imagine the Vols beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa, so put that one in the "L" column in ink. Tennessee needs to beat the SEC teams it's supposed to beat — Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and avoid the upsets against Indiana State, UMass and Southern Miss.
Q: Does this game being an ACC-SEC matchup register with Tennessee players?
A: I don't think that matters to the players at all, so much as playing in the new stadium on a Monday night in a hyped-up environment. It's somewhat similar to the Battle at Bristol, and Georgia Tech appears to be just as dangerous as Virginia Tech was for the Vols. Tennessee has heard Paul Johnson's confident talks, and the Vols are well aware the Yellow Jackets went 3-0 vs. the SEC last season, so no one is taking the game lightly.