Tennessee’s football season will open up against one of those lower FBS opponents that no one really wants to see pop up on their schedule. On a rare Sunday night, the Vols will open the 2014 season against the Utah State Aggies.
The Aggies capped off 2013 with a victory in the Poinsettia Bowl against Northern Illinois and Heisman finalist Jordan Lynch, leaving the Aggies with a 9-5 record to end the season and back-to-back bowl victories for the first time in school history. Although a subpar season for Utah State, they still managed to win their division in the Mountain West, and came up just short in the MWC Championship game against Fresno State.
Perhaps the most impressive part about the Aggies’ success in 2013 was their ability to win games despite going over half the season without standout quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
Although the Aggies had one of the best defenses in the nation in 2013, it’s Keeton that’s the reason many teams will dread to see Utah State on their schedule as a non-conference opponent. Despite going down toward the beginning of the Aggies sixth game of the season, Keeton still managed to compile 1,388 yards of passing by completing 136-out-of-196 passes (70 percent), and 18 touchdowns through the air. To put it into perspective, in less than six full games Keeton totaled six more touchdowns and only about 600 less yards than all three Tennessee quarterbacks combined last season.
Keeton’s great abilities don’t just lie with his arm however, he is a more than capable runner which will most likely give the Vols a fit in their season opening game. He piled up 241 rushing yards on 55 rushing attempts (4.4 yards per rush), and added two touchdowns with his legs before going down due to injury.
The Vols, historically, have always struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks in the past. Just last year they failed to defeat a Florida team who was forced to play a glorified running back at quarterback and also failed to make a bowl game after losing to a Georgia State team at home.
Utah State runs a similar offensive set as the Vols. It’s mainly based off of the spread option, but they may be more prone to air the ball out than the Vols were a season ago. It’s not just the Aggies’ offense the Vols must be aware of, but also their defense that ranked seventh in the nation in points surrendered. The Aggies defense only gave up 17.1 points per game a season ago.
For Tennessee, the task will be real simple, in context at least. Contain Keeton, and control the air on defense. On offense, the Vols will have to find a way to finish drives in the redzone with touchdowns rather than field goals, something they failed miserably to do a year ago.
Early prediction: Tennessee stands a very good chance to drop their first game of the season to a scrappy, but seasoned team out of the Mountain West. With the return of a hungry Keeton, the game will ultimately come down to either the Vols ability to keep him contained and make him a one-dimensional quarterback, or their ability to pile on the points and put the ball in the endzone. While the Aggies are sure to give the Vols a scare, Tennessee still starts the season 1-0 with a 24-20 victory over Utah State on Sunday, Aug. 31 on the SEC Network.
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