KNOXVILLE – The Vols were pleased to see 51 points and 558 total yards of offense in their win over Georgia State on Saturday.
It was two players who weren’t on the field that has coach Derek Dooley concerned as the Vols turn their attention to preparing for Florida, a team that beat Texas A&M by a final of 20-17 Saturday.
Linebackers Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (turf toe) were both held out Saturday. It was more than just a precautionary move against a team the Vols knew they would be able to beat.
“They wouldn’t have played no matter who we played this week,” coach Derek Dooley said. “We need to get them back. I know that.”
Both were limited in practice all week, but Dooley never hinted at serious concern for either during the week. He listed Lathers as probable, and downplayed Maggitt’s issue as a minor concern.
Senior Willie Bohannon got the start in place of Maggitt, while junior Dontavis Sapp went in the place of Lathers. Sapp finished the game with four tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Bohannon was credited with a sack and two tackles.
“(Bohannon) does a good job, and Sapp is playing pretty good for us,” Dooley said. “We need (Lathers and Maggitt) back, but it’s good to not have to put freshmen in there in this situation.”
Twelve make their debut: With the Vols up by a wide margin in the second half, the coaching staff emptied the bench, giving a dozen Vols a chance to make their debut.
True freshmen wide receiver Jason Croom, cornerback Daniel Gray, safety LaDarrell McNeil, defensive tackle Omari Phillips, defensive end Trent Taylor, running back Quenshaun Watson and fullback/wildcat quarterback Justin King all made it into the game.
Redshirt freshmen center Mack Crowder, tackle Kyler Kerbyson, tackle Alan Posey and defensive end Trevarris Saulsberry also made debuts. Walk-on junior receiver Tyler Drummer played for the first time as well.
Watson had the most impressive debut, rushing seven times for 27 yards and one touchdown, and adding one reception for 17 yards.
“I thought (Watson) looked good,” Dooley said. “He ran with toughness. He had bursts. It was good to play him. I wanted to play him.”
Slow start for the secondary: The Tennessee secondary allowed a surprising number of big plays to the Panthers in the first quarter.
Georgia State quarterback Ben McLane completed passes of 23 and 25 yards to help the Panthers convert two lengthy third downs on their way to a first-quarter field goal.
“We settled into the second quarter, but they were doing a lot of crossing routes and that caused some problems in man coverage,” Dooley said. “We had to change how we were playing and we lost the edge a couple times. We played soft a couple times and they had play action short throws. They did a good job, and we kind of settled into what they were doing.”
Georgia State plays to the end: The few remaining fans showered Panthers’ head coach Bill Curry with boos when he opted to use his remaining timeouts as the Vols took a knee in an attempt to end the game.
“We’re going to use everything we have,” said Curry, who moved to 5-12-1 in his career against the Vols with the loss. “We won’t ever let it go. If we get possession with four seconds left, we’re going to try to score another one because that’s what we are. We will never allow an asset to go unused.”
• The 51-point performance was the second-highest point total in the Dooley era. The Vols scored 52 in a win over Ole Miss in 2010.
• Receiver Justin Hunter became just the ninth player in school history to haul in three touchdown passes in one game.
• Quarterbacks Tyler Bray and Justin Worley combined to complete 15 straight passes spanning from the second quarter until late in the third.
• The Vols put up more than 500 yards of total offense for the second consecutive week. It’s the first time the team has ever done that in the first two games of the season.
• Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had another big game from an all-purpose yardage perspective. The junior had 106 kickoff return yards, 71 yards receiving and 18 yards rushing. Combined with last week, he already has 360 all-purpose yards on the season.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.