KNOXVILLE – There were plenty of big plays to analyze in Tennessee’s 35-21 win over NC State on Friday night at the Georgia Dome. It just so happened that the five biggest all came in the first quarter.

The Vols took a 22-7 early lead thanks in part to three big strikes on offense, and two opportunistic plays on defense in the opening 15 minutes.

Here’s’s weekly analysis of the Vols’ defining plays:

(First quarter, 11:41): Tyler Bray passes to Cordarrelle Patterson for a 41-yard touchdown


UT Formation: Under center, 3-wide (2 left, 1 right), 1 TE (left), 1 RB

Analysis: This big play starts with the play action and the protection. Left guard Dallas Thomas pulls right, something he rarely had to do as a tackle, and Bray fakes to running back Rajion Neal. That pulls the linebackers up and causes a quick pause in the secondary. Thomas gets just enough of his man to give Bray time to step into his throw. Patterson fakes an out route (a route he ran and caught a pass on the first play of the game), which temporarily freezes the backpedal of NC State’s All-American cornerback, David Amerson. It appears the Wolfpack is in a three-deep coverage. Amerson has deep responsibility on his side. The play action, combined with the fake out route, gives Patterson just enough of a step to get by him. It’s a great pass from Bray, and Justin Hunter is deep in the middle of the field, occupying any help that could there. After the game, Dooley said Patterson ran the wrong route. That might be true, but it worked perfectly here.

(First quarter, 1:31) Cornerback Prentiss Waggner intercepts NC State quarterback Mike Glennon and makes a big return (return was partially negated by holding call)

UT Formation: 4-2-5 (nickel)

Analysis: Holding a 7-6 lead and some momentum, NC State decides to go for it on fourth and three at the UT 35. Waggner has the flat area on his side of the coverage. We know that because he jams the receiver in front of him, but then lets him release to the safety behind him. Glennon never sees him. All he sees is his slot receiver beat nickel back Eric Gordon on a quick out. He makes the throw, but Waggner is right there. Also, credit defensive lineman Maurice Couch for some pressure up the middle, perhaps forcing Glennon to throw before ready. Waggner had a chance to score, but he trips at about the 30-yard line. Contrary to how it looked live, he didn’t slip on the logo on the field. He had already lost his balance before getting there. A holding call on defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore (it was an unneeded hold) negated much of the return, however.

(First quarter, 1:18): Bray to Zach Rogers for a 72-yard touchdown

UT Formation: Pistol, 3-wide (2 left, 1 right), 1 H-back), 1 RB

Analysis: The Vols beat Amerson again here. But it might not have been his fault. The protection is pretty good here and there’s a quick play-action fake. Both offensive tackles let their man turn the corner on Bray, but he has room to step up thanks to good interior protection. Rogers run right by the defense, makes a great body adjustment, hauls in the catch and scores. I put this one on NC State safety Earl Wolff. He looks to have deep responsibilities, but oddly steps up to cover H-back Mychal Rivera, who was already shadowed by an NC State linebacker. That allows Rogers to run free past Amerson, who probably thought he had deep help. The confused look Amerson has at the end of the play tells it all. Credit Bray and Rogers with a great throw and catch, but also blame NC State for a busted coverage on this one.

(First quarter, 1:01): Glennon sacked by Curt Maggitt, fumbles through the end zone for a safety

UT Formation: 3-4

Analysis: Glennon roles right, while the offensive line and running back head left to set up what looked like a screen pass. The play never had a chance. Maggitt, Sentimore and defensive end Marlon Walls all close in on Glennon before it materializes. He was out of the pocket and could’ve thrown the ball away without being penalized, but he didn’t – a surprising mistake for a senior quarterback. Maggitt is the real hero of this play. He gets there first, and had he just sacked him, it likely would’ve been marked down at the 2 or 3. Instead, he punches the ball out and sends it rolling through the end zone. Great effort from Walls and Sentimore to try and keep the ball in play, but the Vols have no problem settling for the quick two points and the ball back on a safety.

(First quarter, :45): Patterson takes a reverse handoff and runs for a 67-yard touchdown

UT Formation: Under center, 1 RB, 1 H-back, 1 TE (right), 2 WR (Patterson bunched to the right with the H-back)

Analysis: After getting the safety, the Vols waste no time capitalizing on offense. I try to credit everybody involved on a big play, but this was truly almost all Patterson. Bray fakes to Neal and then hands it to Patterson, who was lined up almost in the backfield, stacked next to H-back Ben Bartholomew. Bartholomew does lay a good block to help Patterson get about 10 yards around the left end, but then he simply takes over. He makes a strong cut back right, juking out Wolff (it was a rough night for him) and beating Amerson down the right sideline. Credit Hunter and Neal for hustling after the play as well to assure nobody caught him.