Recap: Tennessee 51, Georgia State 13
Tennessee Stat Book
In the end, everybody got about what they came for Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
In between red-letter dates on the schedule, Tennessee stretched its legs when appropriate and flexed just enough muscle to dispatch outmanned Georgia State, 51-13.
Tyler Bray and his aerial circus assembled Chapter Two of their 2012 highlight reel. He fired four touchdown passes, three of them to Justin Hunter.
Georgia State, an infant program, banked a huge paycheck — $500,000 — for the budget. Afterward, the cheerleaders got to pose for a group photo on the field in a historic SEC stadium.
And a crowd announced at 87,821 saw the rain blow off to another area code just in time for kickoff.
So now it's Florida week.
"Did they win? What was the score?'' senior lineman Dallas Thomas asked of the media throng gathered around him in the postgame scene.
Florida did win, 20-17, at Texas A&M. The Gators (2-0) and the Vols (2-0) will renew their SEC grudge match next Saturday night (TV: ESPN, 6 p.m.) on the same field where Georgia State's cheerleaders posed for pictures.
And on the same field where Bray completed his final 13 passes before retiring to the sideline.
Just like in the win over North Carolina State in Atlanta, the Vols' offense soared past the 500-yard milestone — 558 to be exact — against Georgia State (0-2).
Bray made it look easy through the air, completing 18 of 20 passes for 310 yards.
Often it was stunningly easy.
Tennessee was playing its 1,196th college football game. Georgia State, a commuter school in downtown Atlanta, was playing its 24th.
The gap was apparent.
"We need games like this to get things rolling,'' said tailback Rajion Neal, who scored on runs of 1 and 5 yards.
"But now it's time to really get down to the nitty-gritty.''
Nitty was sufficient Saturday.
"I give them credit,'' said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. "They came out and played really well. They gave us a lot of problems.''
Georgia State (0-2) trailed only 14-6 deep into the second quarter and had some luck moving the ball against a UT defense that was minus injured linebackers Herman Lathers and Curt Maggitt.
Then Bray hooked up with Hunter for a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:11 of the first half and the halftime lead ballooned to 28-6.
"Then we came out and imposed our will a little bit in the third quarter,'' said Dooley.
The margin was 51-6 until the Panthers staged an 80-yard drive in the final minutes against a defense of reserves that included several freshmen.
When quarterback Ben McLane scored on a 12-yard keeper with 58 seconds to play it was the program's first touchdown in three games against FBS opponents.
"I see enormous progress in the eyes and in the effort of our guys,'' said Georgia State coach Bill Curry, who made history by bringing his fourth different school to play UT.
"We build on experience like today because we're able to see where we had opportunities to actually be in this game that we let slip away.''
For instance ...
After the Vols drove for a Neal touchdown on the game's opening possession, Georgia State had a chance to tie, arriving at the UT 3 first-and-goal.
A Darrington Sentimore sack, however, forced the Panthers to settle for a Christian Benvenuto field goal and a 7-3 deficit.
Bray found tight end Mychal Rivera for a 19-yard TD pass and a 14-3 lead but the Panthers threatened again after recovering a Marlin Lane fumble.
They reached the Vols' 13 before stalling and taking another Benvenuto field goal.
By that point, Bray was smoking hot, going 9-of-9 in the second quarter.
A 73-yard Tennessee drive took four plays. Then a 79-yard drive needed only three plays. Both ended with Hunter snagging a pass in the end zone.
"Tyler had a great stat line,'' said Dooley.
Bray's final stat was a 19-yard touchdown to Hunter with 8:02 left in the third quarter that made it 41-6.
Sophomore Justin Worley finished up. He was intercepted on a deflected pass but helped add 10 points, a 2-yard TD run by freshman Quenshaun Watson and a 25-yard Derrick Brodus field goal.
Brodus's appearance was a reflection on Michael Palardy's continuing struggles. Palardy missed his second extra point of the year and was wide on a 39-yard field goal.
"We need to make those,'' Dooley said. "We'll see what the issue was.''
Speaking of issues, Tennessee's running game was a mixed success at best. A revolving door of candidates amassed 184 yards, a 4.3 average per attempt.
Short-yardage results left much to be desired.
"I think we ran more downhill,'' said Neal, who had 65 yards on 13 carries.
"We were trying to go ahead and get accustomed to that because that's what it's going to have to be when we go against Florida next week.''
Hunter can't wait to go against Florida, the team against which he suffered a season-ending knee injury last September.
He looked completely healed against Georgia State's soft outside coverage, catching eight passes for 146 yards.
Cordarrelle Patterson, meanwhile, proved his sensational debut against N.C. State was no fluke.
He caught three passes for 71 yards, ran 18 yards on a pitch in the Wildcat formation and broke a kickoff return 61 scintillating yards.
And as darkness fell, UT's 18th consecutive home-opener win was in the rearview mirror.
"Most of the ones I've been involved in,'' said Dooley, "we've had a lot better players than the other team.''
It was that way Saturday. Next week, however, will be a different story.