Recap: Tennessee plays N.C. State
Tennessee Stat Book
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