CFN Instant Analysis
Tennessee 35, NC State 21
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Game On, SEC.
South Carolina and Vanderbilt might have decent defenses, but the Gamecock 17-13 win to open up the college football season on Thursday night did everything possible to solidify the notion that the SEC doesn't have much to offer offensively. Arkansas was the main exception last season, and Georgia had its moments, but for all the gushing over how great SEC defenses were, putrid offenses had a lot to do with the numbers. Tennessee did its part with no running game and injuries to receiver Justin Hunter and quarterback Tyler Bray derailing the passing attack. 524 yards of total offense against NC State later, now there's reason for the rest of the SEC to be very, very concerned.
NC State has a good defense, even if it didn't show it off against Tennessee. As the season goes on, watch out for the Wolfpack to make amends for this performance – there's too much talent to continue to be this bad. However, Tennessee might simply be that potent.
Unlike his play at the end of last year after coming back from his injury, Bray was cool, calm and decisive. He found Cordarrelle Patterson early, and then when NC State adjusted, he found Hunter, and when he had to he adjusted and did a great job of spreading the ball around. Even with last year's star receiver Da'Rick Rogers booted off the team, the passing game exploded, and this year, at least in the season opener, there was a real, live running game to balance things out.
If most of the SEC is going to be offensively challenged again, then Tennessee might be able to fill the void and become the dangerous SEC East team that no one wants to deal with. This was the attack and the game that Vol fans have been waiting for, and from the way Bray and the rest looked, this might have been the start of something very, very big.
Obviously, this was an enormously meaningful victory for Tennessee and Derek Dooley, the beleaguered head coach who had no choice but to get off to a fast start in 2012. Most impressive about the W in Atlanta, though, is the fact that the Vols made a statement that they could be more than just a high-flying passing game in the fall.
Sure, Tyler Bray's big arm was on display versus a seasoned NC State secondary, and receivers Justin Hunter and newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson appear capable of making folks forget Da'Rick Rogers was ever in Knoxville. However, Tennessee was also able to show that its defense and running game have come a long, long way from a year ago, key developments if the program plans to compete at a higher level in the SEC. It controlled the line of scrimmage, which created space for Patterson, Marlin Lane and Rajion Lane to make things happen on the ground. And on defense, first-year coordinator Sal Sunseri is off to a great start, guiding a unit that picked off four Mike Glennon passes, harassed the quarterback all night and made stops when it had to.
After losing seven games in each of the last two seasons, Tennessee HAD to have this opener. By beating a decent opponent at a neutral site, the Volunteers can now hope to carry some confidence and momentum into the balance of the season. And, at least for one week, Dooley can exhale.
By Matt Zemek
Since college football doesn't play preseason games, season openers are going to be uneven, ragged and chaotic on most occasions. That's simply the nature of the beast. A lack of real-world reps will lead to a certain degree of imprecision on the field, certainly in the first 20 minutes of competition. For this reason, Tennessee-North Carolina State – like any high-profile opener, especially one played at an unfamiliar neutral site – was likely to be shaped by mistakes… not the slight ones, but the big ones.
North Carolina State made far more of them.
It's not as though Tennessee was the picture of perfection. The Vols – though hurt by a bogus fumble call just before halftime – made enough miscues to allow the Wolfpack to hang around far longer than the run of play suggested. Tennessee outclassed N.C. State by a wide margin through three and a half quarters, by the Pack were still very much in the conversation until Mike Glennon threw one more interception near the five-minute mark of regulation. Tennessee left points and opportunities on the field, but N.C. State suffered the worst breakdowns on Friday night.
Wolfpack cornerback David Amerson was supposed to be a pillar of his team's defense. Instead, he was utterly lost, failing to carry out basic coverage assignments. Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson – taking the baton from dismissed ex-teammate Da'Rick Rogers – annihilated him on Friday. Glennon was a mess under center. N.C. State backs and receivers came up small in the open field, dropping passes when given chances to register field-changing plays. The Wolfpack didn't just litter the field with blunders and slip-ups; their errors were more substantial than Tennessee's missteps, and they often came in lethally concentrated clusters.
Tennessee was steadier, readier, headier. In a word: better. The ACC is still not ready for prime time.
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb
It's true Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley has a number of returning starters to work with (18), however few of them actually excelled last season, the one who did is has been booted from the team (Da'Rick Rogers), and it's not like a lot of their position coaches returned with them.
So for a game one, against a good opponent on a neutral field, this Tennessee Volunteer team executed quite well; certainly better than anyone on Rocky Top had a right to hope for.
Credit need be shared among many, but a healthy portion of it should find its way to new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri. On the surface, his unit appeared to give up a lot of yards (407), but look a little closer… It only surrendered seven points and 154 yards after halftime – and a full third of those yards came on NC State's final drive, with the game out of reach.
Sunseri's defense was by no means perfect, but it played with authority down the stretch and snatched four interceptions from the otherwise talented Mike Glennon – who had a total of 12 in 13 games last year.
That's a welcome sight given Tennessee finished ninth in the conference in turnover margin in 2012.
READ MORE HERE… Mitchell: Well, Hello There Rocky Top
By Phil Harrison
Follow me on Twitter @PhilHarrisonCFN
Another victory for the SEC, and yet another disappointing performance for the ACC.
It's almost unfathomable to witness what has happened to the ACC over the last decade. When the league plucked the best of the Big East away in 2003 many thought the league would be on its way to becoming THE juggernaut of the college football universe.
With Miami, Boston College, Florida State, and Virginia Tech joining the league, even the most ardent critics could see football glory in the crystal ball of a historically proud basketball conference. That is, unless you had a chance to hop in the Delorean and fire up the flux capacitor.
Instead, what we've witnessed is that Florida State and Miami have largely underachieved, and Virginia Tech--though able to be the big man on campus in the league--has not been able to hold a candle to the rest of the nation on the bigger stages.
And for what reason?
The tradition is there. As is the recruiting grounds. But IT--whatever that is, isn't there. Whether it's the lack of money thrown at coaches, or the emphasis that the ACC puts on basketball, the conference just isn't getting it done on the gridiron. Whatever it is, what remains clear is that the same conference that sits in the footprint of the SEC has continued to cower underneath its very large shadow.
And that's not a good thing with the playoff landscape changing..
By Terry Johnson
Please Follow me on Twitter @TPJCollFootball
- Let's face it, there's still a huge gap between the ACC and the SEC. The Volunteers, picked to finish fifth in the preseason media poll, dominated every facet of this game against an NC State team that's expected to contend for the Atlantic Division crown.
- Unfortunately, this impressive victory will not help Derek Dooley get off the hot seat.
- The game ball goes to the Tennessee defense, which picked off Mike Glennon four times, and recorded three QB sacks. The four interceptions were more than Glennon threw in his first five games last season.
- Da'Rick who? The Volunteer receivers showed plenty of explosiveness as Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rogers each scored on long TD catches.
- More impressively, they did it against David Amerson, who led the NCAA in interceptions last season.
- Justin Hunter showed no signs of injury, which has to come as welcome news to Vols fans after Derek Dooley dodged the question throughout the offseason.
- Mustafa Greene may have started the game as the third-string running back, but he was clearly the most effective of the group. Expect to see him as the starter as the season progresses.
- How did Quintin Payton (4 catches, 129 yards) manage to get open deep so easily? At 6' 4" 210 lbs., he should be pretty easy to spot, yet there never seemed to be a defender within 5 yards of him.