Tennessee vs. Georgia State
Saturday, 4:00 p.m.
Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tenn.
Series Record: First meeting
Why Saturday is important
The Vols get a maximum of only 14 games each season, so each one is important in its own way. This particular one might be the least important of the 2012 season, though. Simply put, the Panthers are significantly overmatched against the Vols, and will lose by a wide margin. It doesn’t mean it’s a wasted day for Tennessee. The Vols will look to focus on their execution and sharpen any loose edges with Florida coming into town next week. They might look to get some younger players their first game experience. It’s a home opener, it a chance to get better, but it’s a not a game that will be in doubt.
Three things to know about Georgia State
The Panthers, who play their home games in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, are only in year three of having a football program. They are playing in the (FCS) Colonial Athletic Association in 2012 as part of a transition plan to get them to the (FBS) Sun Belt Conference in 2013. They won’t be eligible for the postseason until 2014. … They’ve still got a lot of work to do to be competitive at the FBS level. The Panthers fell to South Carolina State 33-6 last week. Overall, they have a 9-14 record in the team’s existence. Tennessee will be the third FBS program Georgia State has taken on. It lost at Alabama 63-7 in 2010, and fell 56-0 at Houston in 2011. … There have been signs of progress, though. Defensive lineman Christo Bilukidi was the program’s first NFL draft selection in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. The Panthers had a four-game losing streak in 2011 in which they lost by an average of just four points.
What you should know about Georgia State coach Bill Curry
The 69-year old Curry is the only coach in program history, and he has already announced that 2012 will be his last season as the head coach. He plans to stay on in an advisor position. … He’s earned the chance to retire. After a nine-year NFL playing career, he has coached on and off since 1976. He began as an assistant at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, and then had a brief stint as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers. He returned to Tech as the head coach in 1980, and followed that with stints as the head coach at Alabama and Kentucky. … Despite his extensive coaching credentials, you might know him best from his time as an analyst for ESPN. He worked for the network between his time at Kentucky and Georgia State.
Tennessee player to watch
With senior linebacker Herman Lathers (shoulder) questionable, keep an eye on junior linebacker Dontavis Sapp, who could either start or see extensive playing time in Lathers’ spot, just as he did last week when Lathers went out against NC State. Sapp has appeared in 23 games in his two-year career, but mainly played on special teams and as a situational linebacker. The Vols would like to see him do more. With depth thin at inside linebacker, and Lathers known for his injury history, the coaching staff will try to have Sapp ready to be a starter should there be a need later in the season.
Georgia State player to watch
Wide receiver/kick returner Albert Wilson will be the Panthers’ best chance to make a big play on Saturday. He can do it against anybody. Just ask Alabama. Wilson had perhaps the biggest play in school history when he ran a 97-yard kickoff return back for a touchdown against Alabama in 2010 to give the Panthers their only points that day. He averaged 134.4 all-purpose yards per game in 2011, including an impressive 20.9 yards per reception. He was the Panthers’ leading receiver in the opening loss to South Carolina State this season with three catches for 44 yards.
Random facts to impress your friends
Georgia State head coach Bill Curry is the only coach to face both Derek Dooley and his father, former Georgia head coach Vince Dooley. … Curry is also no stranger to playing the Vols. He compiled a 5-11-1 overall record against Tennessee. … A win for Tennessee would be its 18th in a row in a home opener and would make the Vols 92-18-5 all-time in home openers. … This is only the third game Georgia State has ever played on natural grass. The other two came against Houston and Alabama, the other two FBS opponents it has played.
“Some of their personnel changes are stunning,” Curry, referring specifically to the addition of Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and nose tackle Daniel McCullers.
The Vols will win if …
There’s no magic formula for this one. Show up, execute the offense, don’t give up huge plays and they will win easily. They could have their way in the passing game all day, but look for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to get the run game as many reps as possible.
The Vols will lose if …
They have a rash of turnovers. That’s usually the best way to get in trouble against an underdog. Still, the Vols will have plenty of margin of error in this one. It would take a Tennessee meltdown of epic proportions for the Panthers to leave Knoxville with a victory.
Tennessee 52, Georgia State 10
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.