KNOXVILLE – On paper, Tennessee running back Marlin Lane was on the third string heading into Friday night’s season opener against North Carolina State.
On the field, he was the best running back wearing orange in the 35-21 Tennessee victory.
Lane, who had nine carries for 78 yards on Friday, out-rushed the two players in front of him on the depth chart, Rajion Neal and Devrin Young. Neal had 22 carries for 63 yards. Young had two for minus-two yards.
"I was proud of him,” coach Derek Dooley said. “He struggled a little bit at camp [and] the other guys played well at camp, so it could have been easy for him to say, `I'm getting screwed.' But he's got a real good attitude, and that's how it is in sports; you just keep sawing wood and when you get your opportunity, you take advantage of it."
The Vols rewarded Lane on Monday by listing him as a co-starter with both Neal and Young on the official depth chart for next Saturday's game against Georgia State. It’s not a guarantee of more playing time, but it’s recognition that he could emerge as the team’s leading back as the season progresses.
Lane got a majority of his work in the second half, after Neal struggled to find a rhythm as the primary back early. Lane ripped off several impressive runs, including a 42-yard sprint down the left sideline in the third quarter that set up a 20-yard Michael Palardy field goal. It was a kick that put the Vols up three scores at 32-14.
“We won’t be afraid to stay with the hot hand,” running backs coach Jay Graham said in preparation for Friday.
That proved to be true. The Vols continued to hand the ball to Lane, who helped wear down the NC State defense in the fourth quarter.
"Fourth quarter I was very proud of the team,” Dooley said. “We had a fourth-down stop, we had two turnovers, the offense took the ball with five minutes left and grinded it down to a minute and kicked a field goal, so when you look at those critical factors, we got it done in those areas, so that was a good step for the team."
Other depth chart moves: Other than shuffling the running backs, the Vols also made two moves on the depth chart, both in the secondary.
Cornerback Marsalis Teague and safety Byron Moore are now both listed as starters, after being listed as co-starters last week. Teague was bracketed with Justin Coleman, while Moore was paired with Brent Brewer.
The secondary gave up some large plays to the NC State passing attack but also finished the game with four interceptions after having only nine in 2011. Both Teague and Moore recorded an interception Friday.
“Turnovers were the huge difference,” Dooley said. “We had four, but we also had that safety, so we were kind of plus four in the turnover ratio."
Lathers probable for Georgia State: The Vols had a scare when senior linebacker Herman Lathers left Friday night’s game with a shoulder injury. With depth a concern, particularly at the inside linebacker spot, they can exhale a little easier with the news that the injury is minor.
“It’s not anything severe; he’s just dinged up a bit this week,” Dooley said, officially listing Lathers as probable for next week.
With an FCS opponent coming into town, the Vols have the option of resting the redshirt senior who has been plagued by injuries. That’s not the mindset Dooley has going forward.
“We're not going to hold guys out thinking this game is not important because they all count,” he said. “If he can go, then he's going to go.”
Fulton named offensive lineman of the week: Tennessee G Zach Fulton was chosen the league’s top offensive lineman this week by the SEC. Fulton, who started at right guard, helped the Vols generate 191 rushing yards and was part of a unit that allowed quarterback Tyler Bray to be sacked only once.
Dooley said that Fulton was the highest-graded offensive lineman for the Vols Friday night.
Patterson garners national praise: Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson’s big game Friday is gathering national praise and attention:
• From CBSSports.com: Patterson’s 67-yard touchdown run was honored as the top play from week one by the site’s SEC blog.
• From SECSports.com (league’s official website): Patterson was chosen as one of the notable performers of the week for his run, his 41-yard touchdown reception and his two touchdowns.
•From ESPN.com: Patterson was listed as “glowing ember” on the ESPN SEC blog about hot/cold performance from week 1. “He lives up to the hype,” ESPN said.