Recap: Tennessee plays N.C. State
Tennessee Stat Book
Moments after Tennessee finished off North Carolina State on Friday night in the Georgia Dome, crew members quickly wheeled a stage onto the turf.
Game officials presented a trophy to coach Derek Dooley and his players, who then insisted that Dooley place the leather helmet atop his perfectly coifed hair.
But amid the celebration, Dooley was sounding notes of caution before he even left the podium.
After congratulating his players and the Wolfpack on a good game, Dooley shouted above the din of the fans still in the stadium: "It's one game. We got a long season. We made a lot of mistakes. We're going to correct them and get to Game 2."
It's hard to find flaws in the result itself, a 524-yard offensive performance, a defensive effort that produced four interceptions and a safety, and a 35-21 victory. And after the dismal ending to last season, Dooley said the players enjoyed the victory.
"They're not sad they won," he said. "But we're not going to sit there and pat ourselves on the back because we won the game. It was a good win, but we've got 11 left and now we go to work on the next week."
Next week brings Georgia State (0-1) to Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: PPV, 4 p.m.). The Panthers, in the midst of a two-year transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision, were pounded by South Carolina State 33-6 on Thursday night. On Sept. 15, Tennessee plays host to Florida in a game that could determine who will be in best position to challenge Georgia and South Carolina for the SEC East title.
"I already know you guys (the media) are going to say, 'We're there' or 'We're on our way,' " Dooley said. "But all that matters is 1-0. We have to clean up a ton of mistakes."
Where to start the cleaning?
On defense, communication breakdowns appeared to lead to several big plays by the Wolfpack in the first half. The good news is that the defense was steadier after halftime.
Dooley said the Vols had a hard time adjusting to Wolfpack's quick pace. The defense went into "survival mode" as players didn't even have time to look over to the sidelines for direction.
When N.C. State's Quintin Payton caught a 49-yard pass in the first quarter, there were no Vols anywhere near him. Cornerback Prentiss Waggner released Payton as if Tennessee was in a zone, but there was no safety waiting to help out behind him.
Sometimes the fix is as simple as hand signals.
"Me and Byron Moore had a miscommunication with the signals," Waggner said. "We knew what we were supposed to do, but he gave me a signal that I thought was something else. When we got to the sidelines, we just made a different signal for it. That was it."
Dooley said the problems weren't only in the secondary.
"On the D-line we had a lot of problems in the pass rush lanes and let the quarterback break the pocket too many times," Dooley said. "So we've got a ton of work in all these areas."
Other issues could be more difficult to solve. Dooley was angry with running back Rajion Neal during the game for bouncing outside rather than attacking inside.
"I was real disappointed in a couple of those runs," Dooley said. "He knew to stick it up in the middle, and he just didn't trust it. The runs were designed to stay inside. He made some good runs, but then he kind of went back to his ways of trying to bounce it out in space."
Dooley also wasn't entirely satisfied with the offensive line, even though the unit kept quarterback Tyler Bray out of harm's way for most of the night. But the Vols' failure to convert first downs in short yardage situations could have been costly.
"(The N.C. State defensive linemen) were pushing us a little bit," Dooley said. "Third-and-1, fourth-and-1? We've got to get that."
On special teams, the news also was mixed. Coverage was good, except for a kickoff in the fourth quarter. Punter Matt Darr hit a couple of boomers, but struggled on a shorter field. The missed extra point on Tennessee's first touchdown was a "snapper issue."
"I thought we were solid (on special teams), but I wouldn't say we really impacted the game like we'd like to," Dooley said.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.