Tennessee-NC State Postscript
It’s funny how a single victory can turn around the entire vibe of a college program. But that is exactly what has happened with the Tennessee win Friday evening over NC State.
It is easier for that to happen with a season opener after a bad season rather than a late-season win after a few losses in the same season. A record of 1-0 with an impressive performance means that all things are possible. An upset victory getting your team to 3-5 means that you just might go bowling at the most.
The air is fresher, the grass a brighter green, the flowers more fragrant. It feels like a brand new world. That’s the first scenario.
Everything still stinks. That’s the second scenario.
Derek Dooley did his best to dampen runaway expectations on Friday night by saying that this win is just that – only a single win. A record of 1-0 doesn’t mean anything other than you are 1-0.
Nice try, coach.
It wasn’t just the win that has turned the Volunteer Nation from a bunch of bitter whiners into an army of doe-eyed optimists. It was the explosive nature of the win. Explosives with bravura.
It was like a flash chemical fire.
In the first quarter, down 7-6 and NC State seemingly driving for another score, the Wolfpack decided to go for it on 4th and 3 at the Vols’ 35 yard line.
Cornerback Prentiss Waggner made a nice read on the pass from senior QB Mike Glennon – the QB more seasoned than our Tyler Bray. The QB on some watch lists for the Heisman.
Interception. Vols’ ball.
First play from scrimmage, Bray puts serious air under his pass to the least likely target, the chronic under-performer but hard working senior WR Zach Rogers. Great concentration and a fine-as-you’ll-ever-see over-the-shoulder-catch. Touchdown.
But it wasn’t the offensive target that is the story. Instead it is the defensive target. That’s right. The receiver wasn’t so much a target as was his cover man. Yes, supposed All-American quality corner back David Amerson was the target of Tyler Bray. Earlier in the week, Bray was asked if he would throw away from Amerson. Bray, with typical Bray deadpan, clearly said that he intended to go right after Amerson.
The comment wasn’t delivered with bravura. But the pass was. Amerson looked around looking for a safety. There wasn’t one.
On the first play in State’s subsequent possession, Glennon couldn’t backpeddle fast enough from the driving defensive pressure led by Tennessee LB Curt Maggitt, who hit his prey at the 4 yard line. The ball was loose at the 1 yard line and bounced toward the back of the endzone where it was recovered by a player dressed head to foot in red.
Safety, Tennessee. 15-7 Vols.
After the free kick, Tennessee had the ball at their own 33 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Bray faked a handoff to his tailback and instead fed the pigskin to the replacement for exiled WR Da’Rick Rogers, JUCO transfer WR Cordarrelle Patterson — “CP” for those in the know. CP already had caught a pass for a 41-yard TD play during the Vols’ second possession to open the game’s scoring, a pass thrown over David Amerson’s head for the first of two plays that made State’s hyped secondary look less than ordinary. But now, Patterson’s best was about to be showcased. CP took the run out to the right, then cut upfield, then crossed against the grain, and then kept streaking all the way to the endzone. A shocking 68-yard TD run.
22-7 Vols, and the first quarter wasn’t done.
Potential demons had been expelled. This, after all, was the Georgia Dome, the scene of six consecutive dreadful losses by the Vols who hadn’t won a ballgame in this house of horrors since the 1998 team saved the season by coming back from a 10-point deficit to defeat plucky Mississippi State to win the conference title, paving the way for the national title a month later.
But last season, Tennessee assembled some pretty good first half performances only to wilt in the early portion of the third quarter. Bray’s botched QB sneak at the goal line just before the half, after State had cut the deficit to 22-14, made every Vol fan dread the second half opening whistle. We’d all seen this kind of movie before during repeat showings. Was the botched attempt at the end of the first half a trailer for the coming horrorshow?
After State couldn’t sustain the second half’s opening drive, Tennessee got possession at their own 13 yard line. It was 3rd and 3 with dread rearing its ugly head. But Bray hit Hunter on a quick route to move the chains. Then facing a 3rd and 11, Bray hit Hunter again for a first down, this time on a slant route over the middle — a route that many said Hunter would not run early this season because of last season’s knee injury.
Then it was another 3rd down, this time a 3rd and 9. Bray hit Zach Rogers over the middle by throwing what was called by somebody an “NFL-quality dart”.
And then for the fourth time on the drive, the Vols faced another 3rd down, this time at the Wolfpack 22 yard line. A quick pass to the tight end produced another 3rd down conversion to save the drive, and who knows, perhaps the game itself. Running back Rajion Neal capped the drive with two consecutive 8-yard runs for a TD.
Vols up 29-14. Game pretty much over.
What a difference a year makes.
The air is fresher, the grass a brighter green, the flowers more fragrant. It feels like a brand new world.
This fantasy isn’t without foundation. But for it to be a reality instead of just a temporary pipe dream, the long-awaited signature win will have to be actualized. A win over NC State doesn’t qualify.
In less than two weeks, the most anticipated Tennessee Vols football game in some time will be played in front of a sellout crowd and then some. A Vols’ win in that game will qualify for that signature win. And Derek Dooley, no matter how sensible he will sound, will not be able to understate the significance of such a win. It truly will be the long-awaited turning of the corner, after which the possibilities, and expectations, will meet highs that haven’t been within reach in a very long time.
Happy Labor Day!