KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee is about to get an early indication of whether its offense has improved as much as the Volunteers believe it has under new coordinator Jim Chaney.
The Vols are paying the former Georgia offensive coordinator $1.5 million this season to boost an attack that ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in yards per game each of the last two years. That offense will try to show more firepower Saturday when Tennessee opens the season by hosting Georgia State.
Chaney previously worked as Tennessee's offensive coordinator from 2009-12 and has a knack for getting the best out of his quarterbacks.
"I'm ready," Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano said. "I want the season to start. I want to win a lot of football games and want to lead this team back to where it used to be."
Tennessee is a 26-point favorite over Georgia State, a Sun Belt program coming off a 2-10 season. Georgia State ranked second-to-last among all Football Bowl Subdivision teams in pass efficiency defense last season, ahead of only Connecticut.
This game could serve as a measure of sorts for a Tennessee offense that couldn't dominate Group of Five opponents last season. In its two matchups with Group of Five teams last year, Tennessee beat UTEP 24-0 and scored only one offensive touchdown in a 14-3 victory over Charlotte.
The Vols believe Chaney will make them more productive.
"His playbook is extraordinary," receiver Jauan Jennings said.
The Vols got additional reason for optimism Wednesday when they learned both offensive lineman Trey Smith and defensive lineman Aubrey Solomon would be available this season.
Smith, arguably Tennessee's best overall player, was medically cleared after blood clots in his lungs caused him to miss the Vols' final five games last year. Solomon, a Michigan transfer, received an NCAA waiver enabling him to play for Tennessee immediately.
Tennessee won't be the only team at Neyland Stadium eager to move beyond last season.
Georgia State is trying to bounce back from a 2018 campaign in which it lost its last seven games. The Panthers return nine starters on offense and seven on defense.
"After the way our season ended a year ago, we're ready to get back out there and just take the next step forward in building our football program and having the opportunity to kind of reset this thing and do things the right way and get us back pointed in the right direction," Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said.
Here are some other things to know about the Georgia State-Tennessee matchup.
MISSING ON DEFENSE
Tennessee won't have cornerback Bryce Thompson, linebacker Daniel Bituli, defensive lineman Emmit Gooden and defensive back Baylen Buchanan. Thompson was suspended indefinitely after his arrest on a misdemeanor domestic assault charge. Bituli is recovering from what coach Jeremy Pruitt described as a "procedure" on his knee. Gooden tore his right anterior cruciate ligament this month. Pruitt says Buchanan is dealing with a narrowing of his spine.
HOW DO YOU SAY IT?
Guarantano let reporters know this week that his name has been mispronounced for much of his college career.
The junior from Lodi, New Jersey, pointed out his name is pronounced gare-en-TAN-o, rather than gare-en-TAWN-o. Guarantano generally doesn't bother correcting people when they mispronounce his name.
"Different grammar down here in the South, so I just let it roll and whatever happens, happens," Guarantano said.
While Guarantano will be making his 19th career start, Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington is preparing for his 12th start. Ellington threw for 2,119 yards with only five interceptions and also had a team-high 625 yards rushing last season.
Georgia State has one of the nation's top punters in Brandon Wright. He ranked third among all Football Bowl Subdivision players in punting average (48.2) and net punting (42.8) last season. He also was 7 of 11 on field-goal attempts.
UNCERTAINTY ON LINES
Tennessee has plenty of questions on its offensive and defensive lines even after learning both Smith and Solomon would play this season. Pruitt said the Vols could play eight to 10 offensive linemen. Tennessee has no returning starters on the defensive line.
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