Mitchell: Welcome Back, Tennessee
UT QB Tyler Bray
UT QB Tyler Bray
Posted Sep 1, 2012

The Tennessee Volunteers dominated NC State in their 2012 opener, and in so doing sent a clear message to the rest of the SEC East. It's a long SEC haul and Tennessee has some issues with depth, but in virtually every facet of Friday night's game, the Vols shined.

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.

Speaking of sight, a lot of critical eyes were focused on the beleaguered Vols offensive line, most of whom have played together – if poorly – for quite some time (106 career starts). Unlike in games past, this unit delivered nicely against the Wolf Pack. Quarterback Tyler Bray had ample time to work through his progressions all night, and for the most part stayed upright. Meanwhile, the unit opened holes big enough to park a trailer in. On the night, the Vols ran for 197 yards.

To truly grasp the significance of this, Tennessee didn't run for more than 150 yards even one time all of last season, which included games of -9 net rushing yards vs. Florida (on 21 carries) and an embarrassing -21 net yards to Georgia (on 23 carries).

At the end of the first quarter the Vols scored 16 points in the span of 38 seconds, and from that moment on rarely looked like they were not in control of this game. Newcomer Cordarrelle Patterson's two touchdowns, one of them on a nifty 84 yard run, had a lot of folks in Knoxville saying "Da'Rick who???"

It's all intertwined, but perhaps most important to the offensive explosion was the stellar play of Vols quarterback Tyler Bray. The 6-6, 225 pound Bray rarely looked flustered, worked through his progressions with a calm efficiency, and thus had the following impressive stat line to show for his work: 27/41, 333 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Bray has now passed for 300+ yards in more than half of 13 starts (seven) – and 250 yards or more in 10 of 13.

Bray had the full arsenal going in Atlanta: great touch, accuracy, and good zip on the ball when needed. He completed 9-of-9 third down plays in the second half (converting first downs on six of those). In fact, Tennessee chose to run on third down just once in the second half, at the very end of the game.

With relative ease, the junior from Kingsburg, California seemed able to throw a 50 yard bomb and hit a dime. A dime running a 4.5 40.

Yes, Bray looked like a cold-blooded killer Friday night.

We'll see if this team follows his lead in 2012.

Russ Mitchell is CFN's lead SEC Columnist. Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb

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