by: Knox Bardeen
ATLANTA -- The Tennessee Volunteers answered three very important questions about the passing attack Friday night in the Georgia Dome when the team beat N.C. State, 35-21, in the Chick fil-A Kickoff Game.
Yes, the Volunteers will miss wide receiver DaRick Rogers this season. No, Justin Hunter isnt completely back to pre-injury form, yet. And yes, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is really, really good.
Rogers, the expected Tennessee No. 1 receiver this year, was suspended by the Volunteers for an unspecified violation of team rules that Rogers later admitted to Yahoo! Sports was a failed drug test.
Without Rogers, Tennessee turned to Hunter and Patterson as the top targets for quarterback Tyler Bray.
Hunter was attempting to return to the team after tearing his ACL in the Florida game last season and Patterson was getting his first taste of FBS play after transferring from Hutchinson Community College.
Hunter caught nine passes for 73 yards in Tennessees season opener while Patterson caught six balls for 93 yards and a touchdown. Patterson also carried the ball twice and gained 72 yards with a touchdown run.
Bray said that having Hunter back on the field was a huge mental lift for the Volunteers, but Hunter was trying to do too much at times. Bray said he pulled Hunter to the side multiple times Friday and advised him to calm down.
Patterson wreaked havoc in both the passing game and the run game, scoring twice and tallying 165 yards of offense in his Tennessee debut.
N.C. State coach Tom OBrien called Patterson a heck of a player and admitted to not knowing too much about the junior-college transfer prior to the game. The entire college football world knows a lot more Saturday at the expense of the Wolfpack.
"When you've got 6-foot-4 on either side and running like they do, that puts a lot of stress on a defense," O'Brien said.
Imagine if Tennessee still had Rogers.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley stressed at just about every moment he could during his post-game press conference, that this win was just one win, a first step in a long journey where the Volunteers will face a lot of adversity.
Dooley warned everyone that they shouldnt get too excited about just one win.
But how can Volunteer Nation not get excited?
Bray put up 333 yards and threw two touchdowns while the Tennessee offense churned out 524 yards of offense. Three Volunteer ball carriers amassed 200 combined yards on the ground.
An offensive attack doesnt get much more potent and balanced than that.
For instance, Dooley marveled at Pattersons touchdown in the first quarter, Tennessees first score of the game. Patterson got separation after a double move and caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Bray. Dooley liked what he saw, but saidjust as in every other aspect of Tennessees gamethere was lots to fix.
Im not sure he (Patterson) ran the right route, Dooley said. Thats the beauty of Bray: He dont care; hes gonna let it fly. That pretty much summed it up. Run the wrong route, Bray rewards him. Touchdown.
Dooley also openly criticized running back Rajion Neal, who scored a touchdown on 22 carries for 54 yards. Neal spent multiple carries running east-west instead of north-south, a huge no-no for ball carriers.
Dooley said there was still work to do on the offensive line (even though Bray said he felt like he was only touched once, maybe twice), in the secondary (a unit that forgot to look over to the sideline for play calls for most of the first half, according to Dooley) and on special teams (any time a team misses an extra point, the special teams unit isnt going to grade well).
While the criticism and feedback on his team is real, a lot of Dooleys push-back was good, old fashioned coach speak.
His Volunteers manhandled the Wolfpack Friday. His offense seemed to be able to pull off any play from anywhere, and his defense picked off four N.C. State passes.
Sure the Volunteers had trouble pulling away until late in the game, and yes, Tennessee does have a few problems to fix. But after winning its first game in the Georgia Dome since Tennessees national championship year of 1998, its going to take a lot to temper expectations from this rabid fan base.