The Tennessee Volunteers started the season with a bang last Friday night with a decisive 35-21 victory over the ACC's North Carolina State. It was more than a victory for the Derek Dooley-led Vols, it was a shift of momentum and perception.
Not only did they hand me my only defeat of the week, they did so in impressive fashion. I had stated in the preview that Cordarrelle Patterson was the best wide receiver I had seen come out of the JUCO ranks in the last five years—he proved me right.
This was the first step in the right direction for the Volunteers. However, they cannot allow it to be another flash-in-the-pan win like the Cincinnati victory was last season.
Tyler Bray played one of the best games of his career and was able to win his first game, as a starter, outside the state of Tennessee. He completed 27-of-41 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Most importantly he looked calm and poised. In the past, I have criticized him for being too emotional. Quarterback is the one position in football you need to remain calm at all times.
Of course the star of the game was Vols wide receiver Patterson. He caught six passes for 93 yards and one touchdown. He also carried the ball twice for 72 yards and another touchdown.
Justin Hunter and Zach Rogers also looked fantastic during the game. However, the tight ends for Tennessee will need to play better when the Vols reach SEC play. Patterson will not be sneaking up on any more teams, and he will need the tight ends to take some pressure off of him and Hunter.
The Vols running game still looked anemic, however. Rajion Neal's rushed 22 times for just 53 yards. He did not even resemble an SEC back in his first game as starter. The potentially good news for the Tennessee run game is sophomore Marlin Lane.
Lane was fantastic rushing for 75 yards on just nine carries. The 5''11", 205-pound Florida native seemed to be more physical than Neal and could give a spark to the Volunteers. Dooley properly described the offensive line as "inconsistent" after the game.
Had this been a strong SEC team Tennessee could have been in serious trouble. However, it was good enough to win on that night.
The defense is much tougher to grade than the offense. It was the first game under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and the reviews are mixed. The defensive line looked good, the linebackers looked great and the secondary looked fortunate.
The Vols did force turnovers, but they looked lost at times. The good news is they will not face a strong passing team until Week 5 when they head to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs. With Georgia State, the Florida Gators and Akron before then, they will have time to get better in their passing game.
Overall, it was a great night for the Vols and most importantly a 1-and-0 start. The next step in the rebuilding process is to beat the Florida Gators in Week 3. However, after Week 1, they might have just become the favorites in that game.