ATLANTA — One data point is almost worse than none, honestly. We’ve said all summer that we don’t know what to make of this Tennessee team, thanks to a 2011 season rendered almost entirely useless for data-collecting purposes by injuries. After seeing the Vols conquer North Carolina State 35-21, we still know practically nothing, and Derek Dooley will be the first to point that out. [RECAP | BOX SCORE]
“It’s one game,” Dooley said. “All that matters is we’re 1-0, and we have to clean up a ton of mistakes.”
That to-fix list surprisingly contains no interceptions from junior quarterback Tyler Bray, who displayed some wonky mechanics at times but played a fairly clean game with big results, completing 27-of-41 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns. What could have been a third touchdown, depending on where you were sitting in the stadium when Bray attempted a poorly considered quarterback sneak, was ruled a fumble in the waning seconds of the first half.
Tennessee did put one looming question to rest Friday night, in the matter of Da’Rick Rogers’ recently vacated Z receiver position. Juco import Cordarrelle Patterson blew past All-America corner David Amerson for the game’s first score three-and-a-half minutes into the game and added another touchdown on a 67-yard end-around in the first quarter’s final minute. Patterson had six catches for 93 yards and 72 yards on the ground. Dooley, sticking to this one data point, assessed Patterson thusly: “He’s big and fast and can catch the ball.” We cannot argue with his logic. Justin Hunter, in his first game since tearing his ACL in Week 3 last season, had nine catches for 73 yards.
Amerson would be outmatched again in the first quarter, losing out to Zach Rogers on a 72-yard touchdown catch that set off a 16-point Tennessee scoring burst (touchdown, safety, Patterson’s scoring run) to end the period. Asked after the game if he felt he’d been targeted, the 2011 national interceptions leader agreed, “I guess you could say so.”
Bray throwing a pick-free game was about as surprising as NC State quarterback Mike Glennon throwing four. Glennon still managed a high output, going 27-of-46 for 287 yards and one score, and helped receiver Quintin Payton to a career night of 129 yards on four receptions. To the delight of anyone who has ever watched Glennon run, he also scrambled for gains of 11 and 14 yards. Glennon is not a creature made for running, but in the context of the night (four interceptions to that Tennessee secondary?) it made a bizarre, almost comforting sort of sense.
On the matter of the unproven ground attacks of both squads: The Vols’ leading rusher in Week 1 in terms of yardage didn’t even make the two-deep out of training camp. No. 3 tailback Marlin Lane carried nine times for 75 yards, including a long breakaway of 42 yards. Starter Rajion Neal did most of the short-yardage heavy lifting, carrying 22 times for 53 yards and a score. Mustafa Greene, not seen in game action for the Wolfpack since 2010, carried 11 times for 53 yards, followed closely by Tony Creecy, with 10 carries for 48 yards and a score.
You might have heard about a moment of unplanned off-field action during the game. The fan who fell from the third level of the Georgia Dome to the second, injuring another fan in the process, did so over to our right, but we didn’t see it happen. No report at this time on the condition of either patron, but staffers at the Dome did indicate alcohol appeared to play a role in the accident.
[UPDATE: The Associated Press is reporting that the falling patron, Isaac Grubb of Lenoir City, Tennessee, was pronounced dead Friday night. The fan injured by Grubb's fall was treated and released.]