Derek Dooley breaks down individual, group performances in first game
In the final seconds Friday night at the Georgia Dome, Marsalis Teague snatched Tennessee's fourth interception of the game.
In 2011, it took until Nov. 5 before the Vols recorded their fourth interception of the season.
"They said we had nine total last year,'' safety Byron Moore said Monday, "and we got four in the first game. That's a real big positive.''
Indeed. After the opening weekend of college football, the Vols are tied with Kansas atop the NCAA rankings with four picks.
In case Derek Dooley sees this, I'll throw in the mandatory disclaimer: It's only one game, guys.
Fair enough. After Art Evans returned an interception for a touchdown in the opening game last year, the Vols failed to pick off another pass against the next five opponents.
That won't happen again. Look for number five (at least) Saturday against Georgia State (4 p.m., Pay-Per-View).
The 35-21 win over North Carolina State was only one game. But it was a terrific game on several levels.
One of them was the turnovers that disrupted a potent N.C. State's offense time and again.
Turnovers that vindicated the new defensive coaching staff.
"That was kind of my number-one thing hiring,'' Dooley said Monday. "It was disrupting an offense. Because offenses are hard to stop now. They're just hard.
"If you just sit there and react to what they do all the time, it's just tough.''
In the aftermath of a 5-7 season, all four of Dooley's defensive coaches left for other jobs. Coordinator Justin Wilcox took a similar post at Washington. Peter Sirmon tagged along.
Lance Thompson went to Alabama and Terry Joseph to Nebraska.
At the time Dooley said: "Like any coaching change, we'll use it as an opportunity to get better.''
But who was listening? Everybody was busy wringing hands over the perception of a sinking ship.
Enter Sal Sunseri, an old Dooley connection from Nick Saban. There would be no more sitting back and reacting.
"You've got to try to create plays in a game,'' Dooley said. "Our guys did a good job of that.''
Up front, Sunseri's troops put pressure on N.C. State's veteran quarterback Mike Glennon. On the back side, the DBs closed the vise. Moore, Teague, Prentiss Waggner and Eric Gordon swiped passes.
"Last year it was more of a sit-back kind of defense,'' Moore said. "This year Coach Sal is gonna bring the pressure.
"They really affected the quarterback. In the second half he started hurrying up and trying to get the ball out of his hands quick.''
It was UT's first four-interception game since 2010 against Ole Miss. For the record, Justin Wilcox was the defensive coordinator that day. The Vols managed 18 interceptions in 2010, but only half as many in 2011.
And when Wilcox departed, Dooley knew he wanted to go a new direction, to get more aggressive.
Tennessee fans got their first look at that new direction Friday night. The players already knew what was coming.
Waggner, a fifth-year senior on his fourth coordinator, had been paying attention through spring practice and fall camp.
"I like to watch film, the whole big concept,'' Waggner said. "The whole camp I watched the stunts and those type of blitzes Coach Sal was dialing up.
"I knew we were gonna affect the quarterback this year.''
Yep. They are.
With seven returning starters, the defense was probably going to be somewhat better in 2012, no matter who was coaching.
But if Friday night was a true indication, the defense is not only going to better, it's going to be more disruptive.
That's the kind of better Dooley had in mind.