Recap: Tennessee plays N.C. State
Tennessee Stat Book
If this game is a template for Tyler Bray's season, Tennessee's in good shape. Bray wasn't perfect, but he made big throws, involved several receivers, evaded sacks and avoided interceptions. He challenged one of the nation's best cornerbacks and won by a lot.
Running Backs B
Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane combined for a solid game (31 carries, 128 yards), fighting for tough gains inside while protecting the football. The Vols rejuvenated running game is still in its infancy, and it's a long road back to respectability, but Friday night was a good start.
Wide receivers/tight ends A
Cordarrelle Patterson's debut laid to rest any concerns that it might take him awhile to adjust to this level of football. The Patterson-Justin Hunter tandem combined for 15 catches and 166 yards, and reserves Zach Rogers and Jacob Carter also provided welcomed contributions.
Offensive line B
The line gave Bray plenty of time to throw. Bray took so few hits that he rarely had to leave his feet or get his jersey dirty. The line also opened up holes in the running game, including a huge gap that Lane shot through for a 42-yard run.
DEFENSIVE LINE B
UT's line forced N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon to move in the pocket and disrupted the NFL prospect. Part of the byproduct of that pressure was four interceptions hauled in by the Vols' secondary. The Wolfpack was never able to establish its ground game, rushing for just 119 yards on 32 carries. Defensive end Maurice Couch finished with five tackles, including one for a loss, while neither Daniel McCullers nor Darrington Sentimore registered a tackle.
UT's four play-making linebackers did exactly that. Jacques Smith, Curt Maggitt, A.J. Johnson and Herman Lathers all posted at least four tackles. Maggitt forced a fumble resulting in a N.C. State safety to give UT a 15-7 lead in the waning moments of the first quarter. The group was disruptive and productive. The downside of the night was seeing Lathers leave with an injured shoulder.
After allowing 145 passing yards in the first quarter, most coming on wide-open passes down the middle, the Vols' defensive backfield plugged the holes. Free safety Brian Randolph and cornerbacks Marsalis Teague, Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon all pulled in game-changing interceptions. UT, as a team, posted just nine picks last season. N.C. State gained 288 yards through the air, but with a talent like Glennon, that's expected. Brent Brewer delivered a ferocious hit on Josh Stanley to start the second quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS B
Other than Michael Palardy blowing the point-after touchdown on Patterson's first-quarter score, the unit was relatively solid. Punter Matt Darr shanked two sub-30-yard punts, but also put two inside the 20 and ended with a 38.6-yard average on five attempts. Gordon, a gunner on punt coverage, bulldozed back-peddling N.C. State return man Rashard Smith thanks to one booming, airy punt by Darr. Kick returner Devrin Young got only two chances to bring a return out and broke one for 35 yards. Palardy hit a pair of field goals (20 and 34 yards) and consistently put his kickoff into the N.C. State end zone.
The Vols didn't let distractions mar an otherwise solid camp, and they didn't let adversity affect their performance on Friday. There should be plenty of fodder for film review, particularly on defense, but overall the Vols looked well-prepared and ready to play.
It's only one game, but the Vols' offense looks like it will be formidable. The defense is still unpolished, but there's plenty of promise, especially up front. Opening games tend to elevate or crush early expectations. After this game, optimism for 2012 likely will be sky-high.