ATLANTA — The much-anticipated debut of Tennessee junior wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson finally came Friday night against NC State in the Georgia Dome.
It was even better than expected.
The junior college transfer accounted for 187 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the Vols’ 35-21 season-opening win over the Wolfpack. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver did it through the air and on the ground.
He opened the scoring with a 41-yard touchdown reception from junior quarterback Tyler Bray over NC State’s heralded cornerback David Amerson to put the Vols up 6-0 early. Patterson showed his versatility later by taking a reverse around left end, darting back to the right and out running the Wolfpack defense for a 67-yard score.
“He showed that he’s big, fast and he can catch the ball,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said of Patterson. “He actually ran the wrong route (on the touchdown reception), but that’s the beauty of Tyler (Bray). He threw it to him anyways.”
It wasn’t just Patterson who hurt the Wolfpack secondary. Junior receiver Justin Hunter had nine receptions for 73 yards. Senior Zach Rogers had two catches for 87 yards. Rogers, who got the starting nod in place of departed All-SEC receiver Da’Rick Rogers, also beat Amerson, for a 72-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
“He just got ran by,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien said of Amerson. “Those wide receivers are big, and they’re fast. Holy Cow if they had (Da’Rick) Rogers too.”
Though a two-score win over an ACC title contender is a strong start for the Vols, there were plenty of mistakes the Vols will need to correct before they face Florida in two weeks. NC State QB Mike Glennon completed 27 of 46 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown. Many of those yards came from blown coverage. Glennon, normally a pocket passer, also broke contain multiple times for 34 rushing yards.
The run game was also inconsistent. Though Patterson broke a long reverse, and third-string back Marlin Lane broke one for 42 yards, the Vols struggled to get consistent push against the NC State front. Starting running back Rajion Neal finished the game with just 63 yards on 22 carries.
“We have to clean up a ton of mistakes,” Dooley said. “We have to go clean those up. We’re not going to sit there and pat ourselves on the back because we won one game. We have 11 games left.“
Special teams show improvement: Kicker Michael Palardy missed the first extra point, but that was the only large miscue for the Vols on special teams. Dooley blamed the miss on a high snap.
Palardy connected on field goals of 34 and 20 yards to help the Vols build a lead in the second half. He also had three touchbacks.
Punter Matt Darr also showed improvement after struggling in 2011. The sophomore averaged just under 40 yards per punt but hit a career-long 51-yarder and pinned the Wolfpack inside the 20 twice.
Sophomore Devrin Young began the game with a 35-yard kickoff return.
Bray sharp: Bray looked to be back to his early-2011 form with a big night Friday. The junior completed 27 of 41 passes for 333 yards to go along with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Tyler did a good job with the ball, especially in the red area,” Dooley said. “Really proud of Tyler’s management in the throwing game. He took care of the football.”
His 333-yard performance ranks fourth in his career in total yards in one game. After throwing a total of four interception in his last two games in 2011, Bray showed improvement in his accuracy Friday.
“I think he made a lot of good decisions out there and did what he had to do to help us win,” Hunter said.
Lane makes his case: Marlin Lane came into the game third on the depth chart at running back. That could change with a few more performances like he had Friday night.
The sophomore had the strongest night of the top-three Tennessee backs Friday, rushing for 78 yards on nine carries.
“He ran hard,” Dooley said. “I give Marlin Lane a lot of credit. He came in third team, would've been easy to be down ... he was a big difference for us.”
Stumbling out of the gates: Dooley provided some comic relief before the game started. The Vols’ head coach got his feet tangled up with one of the players as the Vols ran out of the tunnel before the game, before quickly recovering and getting back on his feet.
Luckily for the Vols, it wasn’t a bad omen.