After years of anticipation, the Battle at Bristol is finally upon us. Tennessee will face Virginia Tech on Saturday in front of 150,000-plus fans in what should be the most-attended college football game ever. Surprisingly, Virginia Tech and Tennessee have only faced off against each other eight times, with Tennessee leading the series five to three. The last matchup between the two was in the 2009 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, a game the Hokies won 37-14.
This week, the No. 17 Vols are looking to bounce back from an underwhelming win against the Appalachian State Mountaineers, the final score being 20-13 in overtime. In order to bounce back, the Vols need strong performances from their top players. Here are some candidates that could have a breakout performance.
Coleman Thomas, Center (Jr.)
Last week against App. State, the offensive line had one of its worst performances in recent memory. Sure, Drew Richmond was playing in his first ever collegiate game. However, there was no excuse for the rest of the line to struggle. In order to perform well, the line needs Coleman Thomas to be a leader and take control. If he has a strong performance, there’s a good chance that the rest of the line will follow suit.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Linebacker (Sr.)
Tennessee’s defense had a mostly-solid performance last week against App. State. However, the Vols played most of the game without their biggest leader and hitter. Reeves-Maybin was ejected for targeting early in the first half on a hit during punt coverage. Since Reeves-Maybin was ejected so early in the game last week, be prepared for him to have a breakout performance and lead the defense to a victory.
Micah Abernathy, Safety, (Soph.)
With all of the stress and drama going on in the potential upset last week, Abernathy was an unsung hero of the defense. Making his first career start at safety, he recorded eight tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup on the final play of overtime. Look for him to have another solid performance alongside Todd Kelly Jr. and to potentially make a big play or two on special teams.
Joshua Dobbs, Quarterback (Sr.)
If last game was any indicator on how the Vols’ offense will go this season, then Tennessee fans are in for a long ride. Dobbs, the leader and voice of the team, wasn’t able to get anything going. He was 16-of-29 for 192 yards and threw one touchdown along with an interception. Dobbs carried the ball nine times for negative-four yards. It was a wake-up call for him and he should have a bounce-back performance. If he’s given time in the pocket to throw and can locate the running lanes, then Dobbs should return to form.
The Battle at Bristol airs on ABC. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET this Saturday.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Donald Page, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics