Tennessee Volunteers Football: What We Learned from Win over NC State Wolfpack
The Tennessee Volunteers had a picture-perfect beginning to the 2012 season.
There are things that could have gone better, but the end result on Friday was a convincing 35-21 win over North Carolina State.
The Vols win was one of the most impressive victories of the college football weekend. The Wolfpack are a polished team and will have another strong season. The fact that Tennessee looked so good against them is a great sign.
There are both good and bad things we learned from the game.
Here are my five:
Cordarrelle Patterson Is the Real Deal
We always hear that this recruit is the one that will turn everything around. This recruit can be a star right now. This recruit will bring us back to relevance.
Well, folks. Cordarrelle Patterson is this recruit.
Patterson's first reception as a Volunteer, which went for nine yards, was also Tyler Bray's first completion of the year. Patterson's second reception was a beautiful 41-yard touchdown bomb that showed off his route-running ability, speed and pass-catching skills against the nation's best cornerback, David Amerson.
His 67-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was reminiscent of Reggie Bush's famous reverse-the-field scampers from USC, as he cut against the grain and outran Amerson on his way to the end zone.
Patterson's hands were magnetic. He led Tennessee with 93 yards and was second on the team in rushing yards with 72.
Clearly, Patterson has Bray's confidence, and his impact ripples throughout the offense.
Tennessee Running Game Is Still a Big Question Mark
For all the electricity of the passing game, the running game was still frustrating.
Rajion Neal was bombarded with tacklers at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield most of the night and when the offensive line was able to fend them off, he bounced his runs outside far too often.
He had a great eight-yard touchdown run that kicked off the second half scoring and was a workhorse, carrying the ball 22 times. It was nice to see the commitment to Neal even when the holes weren't there.
Marlin Lane played with his heart on fire. Whether it was his fresh legs or the chip on his shoulder for being listed No. 3 on the depth chart, Lane looked amped up and ready to play. It's a shame he couldn't finish off his 42-yard with a touchdown.
Alex Bullard was the phantom No. 88 that played as a blocking tight end. I like seeing Derek Dooley and Jim Chaney find ways to get more blockers on the field, but it'll be for naught if the running backs can't step it up.
Vols Secondary Is Full of Playmakers
Before the game, I was discussing with some fellow Tennessee fans what our strengths and weaknesses would be.
For some reason, I felt great about the secondary, and that optimism ended up being well-placed.
Against a top-five NFL quarterback prospect, the Volunteer defense erupted with five turnovers. NC State quarterback Mike Glennon had a miserable game. In 2011, Glennon threw four interceptions total against Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina and Clemson.
The Vols matched that total against Glennon in just one night.
Glennon also fumbled once, the ball punched out by outside Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt.
Prentiss Waggner, finally back at cornerback, got off to a hot start intercepting the first pass of the game. Byron Moore, in just his third start, made a terrific interception, sliding in front of a pass lobbed by Glennon in the teeth of a great pass rush.
Eric Gordon got in on the action,too, intercepting his first pass since the memorable game-winner against Vanderbilt last year. The defensive backs finished their feast on the last pass of the game, a prayer from Glennon that landed in Marsalis Teague's waiting hands.
Brent Brewer also leveled the biggest hit of the game in the second quarter.
Tennessee's secondary is full of athleticism and energy, and it should see a lot of action if the Vols' passing game can continue to put up points early in contests.
There Will Be Growing Pains in the 3-4 Defense
There were NC State receivers running wide open far too many times in the first half. The problem wasn't talent, though.
It was miscommunication.
I'm nowhere near a football strategy expert, but when you see Prentiss Waggner, a two-year starter, completely lose his man, you know something wasn't communicated.
When All-SEC Freshman linebacker A.J. Johnson leaves the middle of the field open, you know something's not right.
The switch to the 3-4 defense was bound to come with a few growing pains, and that was confirmed against NC State. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri was animated on the sidelines, but the team seemed to get more comfortable with the new scheme with each succeeding play.
The Vols only have a couple weeks to have most of the kinks ironed out before their first SEC test against Florida.
The Big Orange Is Finally Back!
If we learned one thing from the game on Friday, it was that the Tennessee Volunteers are back.
That doesn't mean we're going to win the conference or even the division this year, but it does mean that the days of five- and six-win seasons are in the rear-view mirror. The offense is just too powerful and the defense is solid.
The emergence of JUCO transfers Cordarrelle Patterson, Daniel McCullers and Darrington Sentimore was extremely impressive. The inability to convert star recruits into consistent producers is what cost Phillip Fulmer his job.
After Week 1, it looks like that won't be Derek Dooley's kryptonite.
The Vols are back.