Derek Dooley on Vols' first game, the 35-21 win over NC State
Time and tide wait for no man, and neither does the Tennessee offense nowadays.
"Yeah, that's what we do — we've been doing it since January," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Monday, a smile crawling across his face. "That's why we don't let you guys watch practice."
In what Dooley called "a big philosophical change," the Vols' offense barreled up and down the Georgia Dome field using an up-tempo, no-huddle attack in last Friday's 35-21 victory over N.C. State. Four touchdowns were scored. Five-hundred and twenty-four yards were gained.
Though it wasn't exactly a state secret, Tennessee's fast-paced offense caught the Wolfpack flatfooted.
In all, UT's new philosophy produced 79 plays from scrimmage — a program-high since running 82 against Kentucky in a Nov. 24, 2007, quadruple-overtime marathon.
"(The change) was for a lot of reasons," Dooley said. "I think it helps Tyler (Bray). It certainly helps the run game."
Bray was unavailable for comment Monday, but the new brand of offense seemed to resonate with the Vols' quarterback.
Bray never appeared frenzied or frantic. He called most plays from the line of scrimmage and connected on 27-of-41 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
His two touchdown strikes — a 41-yard home run to Cordarrelle Patterson and a 72-yard grand slam to Zach Rogers — came when speedy wideouts broke open behind State's secondary. As a result, the big-armed, free-wheeling junior notched his biggest win as a starter.
More points and production are expected Saturday. Georgia State, a program launched in April of 2008, is the Vols' home-opening martyr. The Panthers have played two FBS programs in their history, Alabama and Houston, losing by a combined score of 119-7.
The downside of implementing a no-huddle offense is the strain it puts on the defense. UT, however, had just two three-and-out possessions Friday. The Vols' defense was on the field for 80 plays, a relatively manageable number.
"There's going to be times where it's not helping the defense, but we think, over time, the points you can generate is what matters," Dooley said.
* After his headline-grabbing debut last Friday, Patterson went from junior college transfer to ESPN highlight reel. What Dooley mentioned Monday, though, was the wide receiver's modesty.
"I was really impressed," he said. "He's not walking like the big shot."
Even after the opener, Dooley said Patterson needs "significant improvement in all his areas," specifically, he noted, in route running and coverage recognition.
"I'm almost where I want to be, but I'm not quite there," said Patterson, who finished with six receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown, and added a 67-yard touchdown run on an end-around.
* Having suffered a shoulder injury against N.C. State, starting weakside linebacker Herman Lathers is "probable" for Saturday afternoon's meeting with Georgia State.
"If he can go, he's going to go, but if he's not in practice this week, it's pointless to play him," Dooley said.
Lathers ended Friday night wearing a sling after missing chunks of training camp with injuries.
"We need Herman, we want Herman, but we want a healthy Herman," Dooley said.
* Puzzled writers scrambled for the Tennessee roster early in Friday's game.
Who is that No. 88 lined up at tight end?
It turned out to be 6-foot-2, 300-pound former starting offensive lineman Alex Bullard — a desperation option after injuries trimmed Dooley's choices at tight end.
"He became an even bigger piece to the puzzle, with our tight end situation getting how it was," Dooley said of Bullard, who entered the year wearing No. 78. "We needed him to play well and he did and it helped us."
Dooley said the staff was concerned with sending starter Mychal Rivera out for "60 or 70 snaps." The senior missed much of camp, shelved with a bruised knee.
"The combinations of Ben (Bartholomew) and Alex Bullard helped us manage Mychal a little bit," Dooley said.
* Offensive guard Zach Fulton was named the SEC's offensive lineman of the week. Dooley said he was nominated by coaches for grading out the highest of any linemen on the team.