Finally, Tennessee wins again in the Georgia Dome!
After six straight losses in Atlanta, the Vols did something almost no one in the national media predicted they would do on Friday, August 31. They beat up an coming N.C. State, 35-21 in the Chic-fil-A Kickoff Classic.
Here, we are going to look inside the numbers of the Volunteer win. We will examine the offensive and defensive line-play as well as how the Vol receivers did against the N.C. State defensive backs.
Not only did Tennessee exorcise the dome demons of the past few years, the Vols also turned the page. Never again to be remembered as the last game they played is November 2011's ugly 10-7 loss to Kentucky.
Are the Volunteers back in the big time now?
No—they just won a football game. But it was a game against a quality opponent. Also, there were several good signs that the team is maturing and will be able to compete at even higher levels.
Are they good enough to win the SEC East?
No—but they are getting closer to competing for it. Although there were many positive things about the win on Friday, there is still plenty to do. The good news is that is probably true about the rest of the league as well.
Follow me and we will take a look inside some of the numbers of the Vols 35-21 win over the Wolfpack.
There was lots of good to talk about in this matchup.
Bray passed for 333 yards on 27 of 41 attempts. He was relaxed most of the time and didn't make any foolish throws.
He was seldom pressured and only sacked once for a loss of three yards. He had to throw the ball away because of the rush two other times.
This effort is a continuation of the fine job the Vols did in pass protection in 2011.
An interesting point on the Volunteer pass game protection; As I reported in my B/R article on August 19, the N.C. State defense—and their line in particular—are a sack-happy bunch. In the two previous seasons, they have recorded more sacks (80) than any SEC team.
The fact that the Vols' line only allowed one sack—and two hurries—all night, says more about Tennessee's ability to protect than the Wolfpack's inability to pressure. The Volunteers' line had an outstanding game in regards to protecting their quarterback.
Bray owes them all a cold, refreshing, beverage—legal of course—as thanks for a job well done.
As for total yards, the Vols had a very good night running the football. They gained 213 yards and had 22 yards lost—three yards on the sack—leaving a total of 19 yards in tackles for loss. The net rushing yardage was 191.
From an average last year of 90 yards rushing to the opening game total of 191, is a great improvement. Especially, considering the defensive line they were running against was expected to be one of N.C. State's strengths.
I think State's line is good but will become better as the season progresses. I reported in a B/R article on August 19, N.C. State had lost three full to part time starters from 2011. These newer guys, though experienced, are still coming together as a unit.
On several occasions, State looked to be in a run-blitz type scheme. During those, two linebackers were immediately attacking the A gaps if the play looked to be run.
When that happened, the UT runner would bounce outside, where the defensive backs and/or ends would make the play. Usually, these plays were for little or no gain.
However, the Wolfpack did not make that move nearly as often as the UT back—primarily Rajion Neal—would try to bounce outside. To their credit, they made the moves early and got him in the habit of bouncing whether the A gaps were being attacked or not.
Another thing State was doing—with good success early—was slanting the defensive line toward the play flow at the snap. This caused some blocking congestion. But mostly, it just reinforced to Neal to try and bounce outside, as the interior looked plugged up.
Of the 22 yards lost in rushing, Neal lost 10—primarily by bouncing outside—and getting tackled at or just behind the line. As a result, Neal's average per carry was only 2.4 yards.
Marlin Lane had nine attempts for 75 net yards and an average of 8.3 per carry. Patterson's two end-around rushes—for 67 and five yards—were nice for the stat line as well as the scoreboard.
Overall UT averaged 5.0 per carry. That's a great average. Still, there is a good bit of work to be done on the run game. I'm sure after they study the film, Coach Pittman will begin with the line.
Someone will need to get Neal going in the right direction as well. The Vols want to establish a downhill running game. While they did that at times with Lane, Neal simply had a poor performance in this game.
Tennessee had a total of 10 receivers catch at least one pass in the ballgame. As expected, the lion's share of receptions went to Justin Hunter (9) and Cordarrelle Patterson (6).
Tyler Bray and company burned N.C. State's All-American defensive back David Amerson twice. Both long touchdown passes were thrown to wide-open receivers, behind the Wolfpack secondary.
The first was caught by Cordarrelle Patterson, a 41-yard touchdown reception over Amerson's head and into Patterson's hands. The second, for 72 yards, was exactly like the first, except the receiver was even more open. That one went to Zack Rogers and scored a touchdown as well.
In my Bleacher Report article of August 16, looking at the linebackers and defensive backs, I pointed out the issue I saw with N.C. State's defensive backfield.
That issue was they gave up a lot of passing yardage. UT played several teams last season that allowed fewer pass yards than N.C. State. I don't think the Vols ever had any doubt they would have a good passing night.
Amerson is still a great player, he just got burned by UT. That happens to the best defensive backs on occasion.
N.C. State's defensive backfield is good but it never was as good as advertised.
Inside the Wolfpack passing numbers: N.C. State's senior quarterback, Mike Glennon, is a likely NFL first-round draft pick. But on Friday night in Atlanta, he had a rough game.
The game started fine for State's passing attack. Glennon wasn't being overly pressured by the U.T. defensive front.
Then, the blitzes started—and chaos ensued—as Glennon was under pressure for most of the night. Though he was only sacked once, that tackle by Curt Maggitt, caused him to fumble the football into the end zone. The Vols couldn't get to the ball for the recovery but got a safety out of it.
In addition, Glennon was intercepted four times during the game. He only threw 12 interceptions all of 2011, so the pressure worked well.
Glennon still managed as many receptions as Bray (27) but his came on 48 pass attempts.
Inside the Wolfpack rushing numbers: N.C. State ran the ball 32 times for a total plus-yardage of 149. They had 30 yards of negative rushing, for their net of 119 yards. That is a 3.7 yard average.
The Vols would like to see the average yards per rush get down to around 3.0. But, the 3.7 is an improvement from the 4.4 average of 2011.
Overall, the defense did a decent job against the run while holding down an excellent pass attack. N.C. State is going to score a lot more than 21 points in most games this season.
You have to say Coach Sunseri's defense had a very good opening review.
Mike Glennon was kind enough to spread the four picks he threw around to the Vols. Byron Moore, Prentiss Waggner, Marsalis Teague and Eric Gordon each got one.
Like Tennessee, the Wolfpack also spread their receptions to 10 different players. Four players split 17 of their 27 total receptions. With UT, only two receivers accounted for 15 of their 27.
State has several good receivers. But they don't have any game-changers. Both Patterson and Hunter of Tennessee are game-changers.
Last season, the Vols didn't have any interceptions in their first game. This spoke more to their lack of ability to generate a pass-rush than who was playing in the backfield.
The four interceptions from Friday night were all made on the other end of a hurried pass. Not that the defensive backs aren't good—it simply takes both pressure and coverage to generate interceptions regularly.
Even with all the good things that happened, there were still issues. Several receptions were made to receivers that were way too open. Also, on at least two occasions, a wide open N.C. State receiver dropped a very nicely thrown ball and ended the drive.
Tennessee won the game and deservedly so. But, if N.C. State had a game-changer—or two—in their receiving corps, that score likely would have been much closer.
So, what does this exciting win mean for the Volunteers?
It means they're 1-0 with a lot of football to play. Don't read too much into this win, for now. The Vols need to continue to improve and gain confidence.
For now, let's just sit here and soak it in for a day or two.