Football readies for season opener in MBS

Mercedes-Benz Stadium will play host to the Aflac Kickoff Game featuring Tech against Louisville on September 1st. // Photo by USA Today

The Jackets take to the football field for the first time in the 2023 season on Friday, Sept. 1st. 

Tech looks to start off on the right foot as they take on the Louisville Cardinals, who have become an annual opponent for Tech under the ACC’s new non-divisional structure, in the Aflac Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Jackets have made significant strides in the offseason, and the beginning of Head Coach Brent Key’s era appears promising. 

The offseason has featured a three-way quarterback battle with redshirt freshman Zach Pyron, redshirt sophomore transfer Haynes King and redshirt junior Zach Gibson all vying for the starting job. All three have their upsides as Pyron led a huge 28-27 comeback victory at Virginia Tech in his first career start last year, King transferred in from Texas A&M as a former four star recruit, and Gibson led the team last season to its most notable win in a tremendous upset at No. 13 North Carolina. 

Quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke is no stranger to developing sensational talent, and these three have progressed exceptionally well in his system this offseason. The question of who the starter is frequents Coach Key’s press conferences, but it took until Tuesday, Aug. 22 for him to officially announce his choice. In his first official game as a Jacket, King will lead the offense onto the field. King was named the starter in an incredibly competitive battle and has high expectations that come with this, but it is likely that fans will see all three quarterbacks get a drive at some point during the opener. 

Tech’s running back room also has substantial depth and will be exciting to watch with senior Dontae Smith, junior Trey Cooley, sophomore Jamie Felix and freshman Evan Dickens all getting reps in the spring game. Smith and Cooley appear to be the top two backs coming out of practices and will most likely take the most snaps against Louisville. 

At the wide-out position, Tech struggles a bit with depth, but the healthy players on the depth chart are encouraging as they continue to perform at a high level. 

Redshirt freshman DJ Moore, junior Christian Leary, redshirt junior Chase Lane, redshirt sophomore Malik Rutherford, junior Avery Boyd, redshirt junior Dominick Blaylock and redshirt junior Abdul Janneh all highlight a talented group of receivers that could power a great passing game this season. It is probable for viewers to see all these players on the field against the Cardinals. 

The offense was the highlight of the spring game in a 42-24 result, with both teams firing on all cylinders at times. Tech looks to continue this type of offensive performance going into the season. On the defensive side of the ball, the Jackets look to have one of the strongest secondaries in the country. Redshirt senior Myles Sims, junior LaMiles Brooks, redshirt junior Kenyatta Watson, sophomore Clayton Powell-Lee and redshirt junior KJ Wallace are the frontrunners for a sensational defensive back unit. This incredibly experienced group should be able to lock up and shut down any receiving core in the country. 

At linebacker, Tech has the biggest shoes to fill and junior Trenilyas Tatum and senior Andre White Jr. look to be the ones to step in. The pair had the best spring game on the field and appear to have a good knowledge of commanding a defense. The outcome of the game rides largely on the linebacker position. If Tech is to win, the linebackers must play a large part in it. 

Taking a look at Tech’s opponent, the Louisville Cardinals are coming off an 8-5 record last season and a bowl game win over Cincinnati. The Cardinals are rumored to be a dark horse candidate for the ACC Championship and have received a lot of hype this offseason. Their head coach, Jeff Brohm, will also be making his debut in this game. There is an interesting parallel between Brohm and Key, being that the two are both coaching for their alma maters. 

This game is high stakes as it will reveal a lot about the coming season for both teams. 

The Cardinals will also be experimenting with new quarterbacks on the field coming into the game as their longtime starter Malik Cunningham has moved to the NFL after starting for Louisville since 2018. Rumors stipulate that California transfer Jack Plummer will be the starter and see most of the snaps during the game. Plummer was alright at California, but he certainly has the talent to expose a defense.

Thankfully, Tech’s coverage team is strong and will most likely make Louisville rely on the run. 

The run game for Louisville lost significant depth in the offseason, especially with Trey Cooley transferring over to play for Tech, so fans can expect that Cooley will be highly motivated to take down his former teammates. Louisville will most likely start their best returning back in Jawhar Jordan. Jordan accounted for 815 yards last year on 142 touches. Tech’s defense will need to shut him down in order to have any chance in the game. 

Louisville comes into the game as an eight point favorite, which Key will likely use as motivation for the team. There is no reason to suspect that Louisville is better than Tech in this game, and it really could go either way. 

With a raucous, anticipative crowd there, Tech is likely to have the home field advantage, which could be just what propels the Jackets to an opening game victory for the first time since 2020 against Florida State.