Sept. 3, 2012
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee's 35-21 victory over NC State in the Georgia Dome was clearly a step in the right direction, but head coach Derek Dooley has his eyes set on his team's long-term goals and is looking to make sure that momentum continues to move forward when the Vols host Georgia State this Saturday at 4 p.m. in Neyland Stadium.
For Dooley, UT's biggest improvement from last year to this season didn't have anything to do with talent or execution, but rather a significant change in the team's collective attitude.
"I saw a difference in the whole team on game day," Dooley said. "There was a whole different level of maturity on the sidelines. When we came off and when we didn't have success, either we went three-and-out on offense or they went down and had a good drive and gutted us on defense, we came over and corrected [the mistakes].
"There was no finger-pointing, no blame, no complaining and we went out there and played again. That was a good sign more than anything and I think that is why we were able to play through all the things that happened."
Although obviously pleased with the outcome against NC State, Dooley was quick to caution that one game does not make an entire season and that the Vols have plenty of work left to do.
"It's an early indicator, but it is really early," Dooley said. "Each week you find out more and more about your team. I feel like I have a little better handle of our guys this year than I ever have, on what they can do, how they are going to perform and then trying to put them in a position to help us. I definitely feel like I have a better handle, but we really don't know much about this team.
"All these first games, a lot of things can happen. Sometimes you look great early and you fall flat on your face, and then sometimes you look horrendous early and you end up winning 10 games. That's just how it is. It's good that we had a win like that. Hopefully it will inspire a little confidence to keep working at it and understand the fruits of our labor and why we had that success. There was a lot of investment by this team in that game and this season. We just have to now stay the course."
This week, as the Big Orange begin preparing for the Panthers, it will focus on two main areas as a team.
"One is how much improvement we can make from week one to week two, because this is always a big week of improvement for any football team, cleaning up a ton of mistakes from the game and seeing if we can make a big jump," Dooley said. "The second thing is trying to define a standard of how we compete every week, regardless of the opponent and regardless of the environment or the venue.
"We need to learn to come out there and perform with the same intangibles, the same level of execution, the same intensity every week and that is what good teams do. We have a lot to prove over time and this will be step two in proving that we are a good football team."
FULTON NAMED SEC OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE WEEKTennessee rolled up over 500 yards of total offense against NC State on Friday and a lot of the team's success came from the push it got from the big guys up front.
For his efforts in leading the offensive line, UT right guard Zach Fulton was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week on Monday, the first Vol to claim that honor since 2009.
"We nominated him because he graded out the highest for us and he got a lot of yards," Dooley said. "It's deserving, he's played well and he had success."
Against the Wolfpack, the Vols finished with 191 yards on the ground, their highest total since running for 199 against Buffalo last season and the third-highest total in Dooley's tenure at Rocky Top.
Even that wasn't quite good enough for Fulton though.
"I thought we did pretty well, but we still have a few things we need to clean up on the running game. We weren't really getting great movement on double teams and face blocks, so we need to get our technique down."
The beneficiary of Fulton's hard work on the line was sophomore tailback Marlin Lane who recorded 75 yards on just nine carries to finish as UT's leading rusher in the season opener.
"I think he went out there and handled his business Friday," Lane said. "He worked for it every day at practice and he is a quiet guy but he's good to hang around."
PATTERSON STAYS GROUNDED
When a newcomer has a smashing debut, typically they go one of two ways in terms of their demeanor: they bask in the glory and rest on their new-found laurels or they continue to focus on the long-term goals and work every day to get better.
Vols receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is taking the second road. After gaining 165 yards of total offense in his debut with two attention-grabbing touchdowns, Patterson still knows he has a lot to improve upon after his first game in orange and white.
"It's not tough at all [to live up to expectations]," said Patterson. "I don't' pay any attention to that. I just go in day in and day out at practice and work hard every day and try to get better and just compete with these guys out here."
With media and fans gushing about his first game at the FBS level with an SEC program, Patterson said he did glimpse at the coverage, but again is eyeing next week's game with Georgia State.
"I read a little bit [about the game] but I try not to give it too much attention because I don't want to get too happy about it, I'm just getting ready for this week," he said.
Dooley agrees that Patterson has to keep his attitude and work ethic where it has been since arriving at Tennessee from the junior college ranks.
"I hope he keeps his level of humility that he's shown," said Dooley. "I told him that. I was really impressed. He's not walking around like the big shot. There's going to be, could be this week, where all of a sudden he doesn't get anything. It's recognizing that the game isn't easy. There's a lot of guys that had a big first game, but if he just stays the course on what he's doing, he has a chance to be really good, obviously."
Patterson knows he has a lot to improve upon when it comes to his education in football and is striving to make himself a better player every day.
"The routes are really what I need to work on, just knowing the signals and making sure I do everything right and learning the defensive coverages," he said. "I just go out and do what I can do and I know it'll pay off.
"I'm just going into the game hoping that I don't have any downfalls; just keep everything up and just trying to get better every day. I hope I can just prove myself. I know what I can and can't do, so [the NC State game] wasn't a big surprise for me, just like at practice every week, I work hard and it paid off."
We will see how his progress continues when we see No. 84 flying down the field vs. Georgia State on Saturday.
CALMING THE DEFENSEIn the first half of the season opener against NC State, the Tennessee offense put up some big numbers, but the secondary also allowed some big plays to wide open receivers across the middle.
The pressure on the quarterback was apparent, both Curt Maggitt and Mike Glennon can attest to that fact, but the communication was still off, something that can happen in the first game of the year.
At halftime, however, defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri spoke with his players and in the second half the defense calmed its nerves and played with a steady hand.
"I would say that we settled down a little bit," said Maggitt, "we communicated a lot more and we talked to each other. In the first off you could see that we weren't ready, didn't have the calls and weren't on the same page. But in the second half I feel like we were on the same page a lot more."
Prentiss Waggner agreed.
"We just settled down," Waggner said. "Coach explained the corrections at halftime, every mental lapse that we had we pretty much corrected and went on from there."
Despite the miscommunication and struggles in the first half, both Waggner and Maggitt still came away with highlight-reel plays.
With UT's first interception of the game, Waggner squelched a 43-yard NC State drive in the first quarter and set up Tennessee's second TD of the game, a 72-yard pass from Tyler Bray to Zach Rogers which was the first of three scores in a 38-second period.
Maggitt then single-handedly recorded the second score after bull-rushing Glennon back 18 yards, sacking him and forcing a fumble that the Wolfpack recovered in the endzone for the Vols' first safety since 2010.
In the second half, UT came out and succeeded as a team.
Both Maggitt and Waggner know how many hits the team had on Glennon (12), and they both also know why they were able to impact the NC State offense so well (Coach Sunseri).
NC State had nine drives in the first half resulting in three scores. In the second half the Wolfpack had six drives, the first ending with a punt, one ending on downs, and three resulting in Vol interceptions.
The shift in momentum was thanks in part to the Vols realizing the mistakes they were making and fixing them.
"I feel like a lot of our errors were self-inflicted wounds and if we can correct them, we can be a better defense," Maggitt said.
"Every big play that they had, it wasn't what they did it was what we did. We pretty much left them wide open. Once we tightened that up we played aggressive football."
Both teammates know that working on communication this week will be a step in the right direction for the upcoming game against Georgia State.
"Communication I would say," said Maggitt, "making sure that everybody is on the same page, and making sure everybody knows their assignments. I feel like we could do a good job if we do that."
Waggner went as far as suggesting that they might need some sort of defensive pop quiz.
"We have so many signals," Waggner said. "We need to have a little mini quiz, a mini test within each other to get those signals correct. I think we will be good from there."
Either way, coming off of a big win there is a lot of excitement among the defensive players heading into the home opener with Georgia State on Saturday.
"A lot of guys on the team felt that they didn't play up to their expectations and I know as a defense we didn't play up to our expectations either," said Maggitt. "But there is a lot of excitement knowing we can get better and that is a lot of positive energy coming into this week."