Defense: 'We got rewarded tonight'

Tennessee defensive back Eric Gordon (24) intercepts a pass meant for North Carolina State wide receiver Tobais Palmer (4) during the Chick-Fil-A Kick Off Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. Tennessee won the game 35-21. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL STAFF)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee defensive back Eric Gordon (24) intercepts a pass meant for North Carolina State wide receiver Tobais Palmer (4) during the Chick-Fil-A Kick Off Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Friday, Aug. 31, 2012. Tennessee won the game 35-21. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL STAFF)

Recap: Tennessee plays N.C. State

ATLANTA — The record seemingly skipped after every Tennessee football game last season.

Coach Derek Dooley wanted turnovers. He wanted a defense that didn't just play, but one that made plays.

Enter new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. Problem solved.

"I always say the two big indicators of winning are turnover margin and making big plays," Dooley said Friday night, following Tennessee's in-control 35-21 victory over N.C. State and ballyhooed quarterback Mike Glennon.

The Vols won the first and made the plenty of the latter.

After recording a meager nine interceptions over the course of 2011, the Vols reeled in four on Friday. Sunseri, a transplant from rival Alabama, delivered Dooley his desired turnovers. Free safety Brian Randolph smiled wildly in postgame interviews saying, "We got rewarded tonight. All that hard work paid off."

Randolph and cornerbacks Marsalis Teague, Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon pulled in the picks, with all but Waggner's coming in the second half.

When N.C. State came out of the halftime locker room looking to erase UT's 22-14 lead, the Vols defense held. A crushing hit by linebacker Dontavis Sapp on Glennon ended the Wolfpack's opening drive at midfield.

It was the theme of the game's final 30 minutes. The UT defense was in attack mode. The interceptions mounted after Sapp's hit energized the whole defensive unit

After allowing 144 passing yards on 11 completions in the first quarter, the Vols gave up just 144 more over the game's final 45 minutes.

The N.C. State running game, which finished 115th nationally with 3.0 yards per carry a year ago, gained 119 yards on 32 carries. The Pack never found a push at the line of scrimmage facing various attacks from Sunseri's newly installed 3-4 defense.

It all wasn't roses, though.

On N.C. State's second possession, a major breakdown in the secondary allowed Glennon to toss a 49-yard floater to a wide open Quintin Payton. UT followed the mishap by burning a timeout with 12 men on the field.

In the second quarter, Glennon found wideout Tobias Palmer for a first down on fourth-and-2 on the UT 46. Another wide open completion, this time to tight end Asa Watson, took the Pack to UT's front door and led to a touchdown.

With under seven minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Vols cradling a comfortable 22-7 lead, Glennon picked up a first down on third-and-5 from his own 49. The next play, the 6-foot-6 gunslinger found Quintin Payton down the left sideline for a 38-yard completion. Two plays later, the Pack were in the end zone.

"They got us on our heels a little bit and we had some mental errors and they hit us down the middle on some blown covers by the secondary and the linebackers," Dooley said. "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. So we've got a ton of work in all these areas."

Brendan F. Quinn can be followed at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 45

rampsneggs writes:

Overall, it went well.

jack4444 writes:

A good win with plenty to work on.

lstbodeanvol writes:

A GREAT WIN......SAW SOME GOOD SOLID HITS ESPECIALLY BREWERS..AWESOME..KEEP WORKING !! GO VOLS !!!!

LibertyVolance writes:

Had to like the big hits from Sapp and Brewer. I like that kind of football.

anythinGOrange writes:

The real reward will be winning an SEC Championship and beating Kiffin Jr. for the National Championship.

lavette12389 writes:

sorry guys but Randolph didnt get the pick. Byron Moore did.

Olddogsrule writes:

A real good win. But like Dooley said in a postgame interview, it just the first win of the season. I'm changing my wants from 7 to 8 wins to be really happy. Remember we're only in the third year of a rebuilding program from scratch. Was this great? You bet it was, but expecting an SEC championship much less an NC because we beat a team in the middle of the ACC last year is unrealistic. Let's keep it real and continue to support these young men we're so proud of, and their coaches, one game at a time. I feared some breakdown in the 3-4 gaps, which we did see. I also saw some unexpected O line breakdowns, resulting in running east west or even south instead of down hill. Watched the game projected 115" diag. on wall. What a treat! I want one!

charliebrown writes:

byron moore had one of the interceptions, not randolph.

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

Dontavis Sapp on Glennon ended the Wolfpack's opening drive at midfield.

I thought this was the play of the game! NC State was moving on a key drive to get back in the game. Mr. Sapp stopped it cold!

SummittsCourt writes:

It was the first game of the season, so sure there were mistakes, but overall the defense showed up and played well most of the game.

This defense will only get better as the season goes on. Go Vols!

Colliervol writes:

Dooley summed it up well in the last paragraph but it was a good start for a new defense. Definitely have to shore up the middle pass coverage and containment of the qb. Looked like they made some adjustments and coverage was better in the second half.

Cash writes:

not sure who, but someone finally taught em how to tackle.

secondary better get their house in order or they will be picked apart all year.

overall, great effort.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Next two games will really test us and then the easy one with florida. But we should at least be 2-2 after we slaughter some gater meat.
GBO!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to Cash:

not sure who, but someone finally taught em how to tackle.

secondary better get their house in order or they will be picked apart all year.

overall, great effort.

I hope we do this well against some great running teams. Our d-line needs to push a little in practice next couple weeks. BUT their o-line was pretty good they said. This should be a fun season.

volfreak#210492 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Next two games will really test us and then the easy one with florida. But we should at least be 2-2 after we slaughter some gater meat.
GBO!

Gosh, I hope we're not 2-2 after only our 3rd game. We have Georgia State in 1 week and Florida in 2. We have a good chance to be 3-0 after the Florida game. That would be nice to see as a fan.

laraccoon writes:

in response to Bark_at_the_Moon:

Dontavis Sapp on Glennon ended the Wolfpack's opening drive at midfield.

I thought this was the play of the game! NC State was moving on a key drive to get back in the game. Mr. Sapp stopped it cold!

i agree , big hits especially on the right people can completely change the direction of a game , Eric Gordon had several nice pops too.

licknpromise777#651578 writes:

The secondary was lost in the first quarter..Not sure what Sal did in adjustment but it worked..Some of the picks were bad throws but 2 were just great plays..Need to see more coverage sacks but overall not bad..I believe Sapp was in the game because Lathers got hurt but he did make the most of the playing time

VolzsFan writes:

So sad how fans are. During the great Hall of Famer's run and greatest era in Tennessee football, this would have been viewed as a oh big deal win over an unranked average ACC team. On that surrendered over 400 yards and needed a couple of big plays to win. They would have said UT backed into a win and that the big boys on the schedule will not give up those big plays. It would have been talked about like a loss. Now it is a signature win. Seriously? Get a life.

stroker writes:

in response to Olddogsrule:

A real good win. But like Dooley said in a postgame interview, it just the first win of the season. I'm changing my wants from 7 to 8 wins to be really happy. Remember we're only in the third year of a rebuilding program from scratch. Was this great? You bet it was, but expecting an SEC championship much less an NC because we beat a team in the middle of the ACC last year is unrealistic. Let's keep it real and continue to support these young men we're so proud of, and their coaches, one game at a time. I feared some breakdown in the 3-4 gaps, which we did see. I also saw some unexpected O line breakdowns, resulting in running east west or even south instead of down hill. Watched the game projected 115" diag. on wall. What a treat! I want one!

Good post dude!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

I love what I'm seeing and it's obvious this unit has a very high ceiling..Great job, Sal..GBO!!

RockyTop1_old writes:

We covered the spread! What more do we want out of week 1?

stroker writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

So sad how fans are. During the great Hall of Famer's run and greatest era in Tennessee football, this would have been viewed as a oh big deal win over an unranked average ACC team. On that surrendered over 400 yards and needed a couple of big plays to win. They would have said UT backed into a win and that the big boys on the schedule will not give up those big plays. It would have been talked about like a loss. Now it is a signature win. Seriously? Get a life.

Please see Olddogsrule post September 1, 2012
3:12 a.m. .You'r bitterness would be served directed at Obama.

voloffaith writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

So sad how fans are. During the great Hall of Famer's run and greatest era in Tennessee football, this would have been viewed as a oh big deal win over an unranked average ACC team. On that surrendered over 400 yards and needed a couple of big plays to win. They would have said UT backed into a win and that the big boys on the schedule will not give up those big plays. It would have been talked about like a loss. Now it is a signature win. Seriously? Get a life.

Hey dudette how man articles are you going to cut and paste this same post? So sad how the unfan is......

movol77 writes:

in response to laraccoon:

i agree , big hits especially on the right people can completely change the direction of a game , Eric Gordon had several nice pops too.

And Brewer CRUSHED another!

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to movol77:

And Brewer CRUSHED another!

That was Eric Berry-esque!! What a tackle..GBO!

tnoutlaw2001#228008 writes:

From what I could see on TV it appeared Moore was the wink link blowing assignments and he was replaced with Brewer who started wrapping up and playing in the correct space.

Maybe Moore needs some more film room study.

OrangeUGlad writes:

in response to laraccoon:

i agree , big hits especially on the right people can completely change the direction of a game , Eric Gordon had several nice pops too.

Yes, people tend to forget about Gordon, but all the dude does is make plays. And not taking anything away from the defensive staff under Fulmer--those guys did deliver us a NC, lest we forget--but it was nice to see the D attacking instead of falling back into that soft prevent-zone on 3rd & Chavis.

AllforTenn writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

So sad how fans are. During the great Hall of Famer's run and greatest era in Tennessee football, this would have been viewed as a oh big deal win over an unranked average ACC team. On that surrendered over 400 yards and needed a couple of big plays to win. They would have said UT backed into a win and that the big boys on the schedule will not give up those big plays. It would have been talked about like a loss. Now it is a signature win. Seriously? Get a life.

You don't know when "the greatest era in Tennessee football" took place. Fans should not dismiss the Neyland years so easily. But then you aren't a real fan of UT football.
From the decimated roster Dooley inherited until today, this was a big deal. Don't underestimate NC State. They are no slouch.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to VolzsFan:

So sad how fans are. During the great Hall of Famer's run and greatest era in Tennessee football, this would have been viewed as a oh big deal win over an unranked average ACC team. On that surrendered over 400 yards and needed a couple of big plays to win. They would have said UT backed into a win and that the big boys on the schedule will not give up those big plays. It would have been talked about like a loss. Now it is a signature win. Seriously? Get a life.

You are such a little, whiney, unfootballeducated, nobody. It will show more and more as the season progresses.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to volfreak#210492:

Gosh, I hope we're not 2-2 after only our 3rd game. We have Georgia State in 1 week and Florida in 2. We have a good chance to be 3-0 after the Florida game. That would be nice to see as a fan.

Wasn't serious at all...4-0 soon. we will beat Florida.

oskie_score writes:

Wilcox vs. Sunseri = night and day. Sal and his defense gave us a glimpse of things to come as players acclimate and settle into a new defense. Aggressive but disciplined! Good pressure from the line and 'backers. Tweak some things here and there. Secondary blew too many assignments but not concerned, they'll be addressed and resolved in short order.

Love the "new" attitude and look of our "D".

NYvolFan writes:

in response to SummittsCourt:

It was the first game of the season, so sure there were mistakes, but overall the defense showed up and played well most of the game.

This defense will only get better as the season goes on. Go Vols!

Regarding mistakes I was pretty surprised at the lack of penalties, on both sides of the football, for an opening game. 6-35 is not bad.

You'd have to say both teams played well penalty-wise for a 1st game.

Navaloranges writes:

in response to oskie_score:

Wilcox vs. Sunseri = night and day. Sal and his defense gave us a glimpse of things to come as players acclimate and settle into a new defense. Aggressive but disciplined! Good pressure from the line and 'backers. Tweak some things here and there. Secondary blew too many assignments but not concerned, they'll be addressed and resolved in short order.

Love the "new" attitude and look of our "D".

I agree 100%, and actually the secondary did a great job of adjusting during the game. One thing I might add is, there were more SURE tackles in space than I've seen in a while. That is a GREAT sign.

frblalack writes:

I've been saying for quite a while the difference between SEC Coach Sal & Left coast coach Wilcox is NITE & DAY! Vols made a statement! Brent Brewer's hit reminded me of old time Tennessee football! Great energy from D. Sapp!!! Outstanding interception from E Gordon!!!

Magnificent catch by Zach Rogers!!! That was no easy catch & he showed his speed!

How bout CP! Of course Justin & Tyler were very good as expected. I really like the energy from Marlin Lane, downfield running again! Rajon is much bigger & stronger. We had great production from our O-line!!!

Of course B Randolph was solid as usual! All-American for sure, but how bout Brent Brewer & Byron Moore? Just Wow! Linebackers were all SOLID...as expected! At least two All-SEC this year!

Mike Palardy & Matt Darr kicked like champions! Devrin handled the returns perfectly! How bout Ben B!!! Good hands, brother & good blocking!!!

Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, CP...All-Americans each & every one! Man, how bout that CP!!!

HOW bout our COACHES!!! It's a GREAT time to be a Tennessee Vol!! You've got to like the improvements in our team, AND in our new Coaching staff!!! Coach Jay, and Coach Sal have made a HUGE difference already!

By the way Coach Chaney called an excellent game, and anyone with half a brain should be able to see now what Coach Dooley can do with some depth. The legend is in the making!

Love my Tennessee Vols! All Vols - All the Time - Vol for Life!

illinoisvolfan writes:

in response to lavette12389:

sorry guys but Randolph didnt get the pick. Byron Moore did.

Once again, KNS show they were watching a slightly different game than the one on ESPNU. HDTV does wonders, boys.

BIVOLAR_BEARE writes:

in response to Navaloranges:

I agree 100%, and actually the secondary did a great job of adjusting during the game. One thing I might add is, there were more SURE tackles in space than I've seen in a while. That is a GREAT sign.

Excellent point, of all the influences Sal brought to UT none are more obvious than wrapping up tackles..I can't remember a time in recent memory under Chavis, Kiffin, or Wilcox where there weren't bumped missed tackles. I remember that punt return against Arky last year, I think there was at least 5 missed tackles..Hopefully Sal and staff have finally instituted the basic art of wrapping up tackles..GBO!!

ktemaque1 writes:

Really enjoyed seeing the second-half adjustments, and the wrap-up tackling!

Bark_at_the_Moon writes:

in response to laraccoon:

i agree , big hits especially on the right people can completely change the direction of a game , Eric Gordon had several nice pops too.

Eric Gordon delivered some Welcome to the SEC Slobber Knockers! Love the way that guy plays with a serious attitude!

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

in response to AllforTenn:

You don't know when "the greatest era in Tennessee football" took place. Fans should not dismiss the Neyland years so easily. But then you aren't a real fan of UT football.
From the decimated roster Dooley inherited until today, this was a big deal. Don't underestimate NC State. They are no slouch.

Agree, AllforT. Of 216 opponents Tn faced during the Neyland era, 112 failed to score a single point! Even if offenses were not as proficient then as now, that is an amazing stat. Congrats to the BO on a great season debut. Sure there are things that need to be addressed, but I'll gladly settle for the feeling I'm experiencing now over the one I had during the entire offseason. Team showed a tough resilience, especially after the disappointing way the first half ended, and as much as I enjoyed the home run plays, especially Z Rogers' td reception, I particularly enjoyed the time consuming, lengthy, sustained drives they put together in each half. Playing an above average opponent in the season opener can be a real gamble; it has the potential to be either a season breaker or a season maker. While I am not yet ready to pencil them into the SECCG, I am very encouraged by the fact that they outplayed NCState in the 2nd half. That in itself is a major accomplishment. If this bunch can stay healthy, humble, and hungry, another trip to the dome in Dec could be more than just a pipedream.

lguy (Inactive) writes:

in response to stroker:

Please see Olddogsrule post September 1, 2012
3:12 a.m. .You'r bitterness would be served directed at Obama.

God, you are stupid, stroker.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to oskie_score:

Wilcox vs. Sunseri = night and day. Sal and his defense gave us a glimpse of things to come as players acclimate and settle into a new defense. Aggressive but disciplined! Good pressure from the line and 'backers. Tweak some things here and there. Secondary blew too many assignments but not concerned, they'll be addressed and resolved in short order.

Love the "new" attitude and look of our "D".

In Wilcox's defense, he didn't have nearly the depth, experience, and size in the line that Sunseri has to work with. He had to keep the defense relatively simple with all the young players. I think I might have taken that as a reason to attack more rather than less; the defense would either get a takeaway or the other team would score. Either way, the defense wouldn't be left on the field to get worn down by repeated 14-play drives. Whatever the reasons, I like the difference between this year's defense and last year's.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to NYvolFan:

Regarding mistakes I was pretty surprised at the lack of penalties, on both sides of the football, for an opening game. 6-35 is not bad.

You'd have to say both teams played well penalty-wise for a 1st game.

Good point. Both teams played well from that standpoint, unlike a certain other SEC team from the far southeast. This was one crop of refs who didn't seem to think they WERE the show. Some of us might quibble about the disallowed TD on Bray's lunge, but it was a bang-bang play even on slo-mo replay. One of the announcers said that if the refs on the field had called it a TD, the replay officials would have probably gone along with that, too.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BIVOLAR_BEARE:

Excellent point, of all the influences Sal brought to UT none are more obvious than wrapping up tackles..I can't remember a time in recent memory under Chavis, Kiffin, or Wilcox where there weren't bumped missed tackles. I remember that punt return against Arky last year, I think there was at least 5 missed tackles..Hopefully Sal and staff have finally instituted the basic art of wrapping up tackles..GBO!!

Great point by you and others. For years now, I have wanted to throw something at the TV set every time I saw a Vol player trying to deliver a "kill shot" with the shoulder, only to either whiff completely or have the ball carrier bounce away and gain more yardage. Goodness knows, the Vols still have plenty to work on, but the return of sound fundamentals in tackling is most welcome and long overdue. The amazing thing about that to me is that this team probably did less all-out hitting in practice than ever before. Limitations on practice time and the desire to prevent injuries in practice on the part of most teams have usually resulted in less time devoted to such fundamentals. Says a lot about Sunseri's coaching and the ability of the players to overcome bad habits from the past.

onevol writes:

Overall, good first game by the defense. There is a lot to improvement needed to play championship football. But I am especially excited to see the 4 INT's. For many years the 1971 Vols held the record for INT's in a season (37) and I would love for this team to get that record back.

If I remember correctly that was Bobby Majors, Conrad Graham, Tim Priest, and David Allen in that secondary.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to onevol:

Overall, good first game by the defense. There is a lot to improvement needed to play championship football. But I am especially excited to see the 4 INT's. For many years the 1971 Vols held the record for INT's in a season (37) and I would love for this team to get that record back.

If I remember correctly that was Bobby Majors, Conrad Graham, Tim Priest, and David Allen in that secondary.

That '71 team was fun to watch! That might be one of the best collections of pass defenders UT ever had. One reason why the Vols may not equal those numbers this year is that most of their opponents will be better at running than passing. Of course, if the Vols get a lead, the opposition may have no choice but to try to throw it all over the lot. Then the INTs and sacks will abound.

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