The Tennessee Volunteers are about to kick off their season against the N.C. State Wolfpack on Friday in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
The Vols haven't done well in the Georgia Dome recently, going 0-6 since 1999. They also haven't beaten an ACC school since Duke in 2003.
On offense, the Volunteers need to get their running game going. After finishing 116th out of 117 teams last year in rushing offense and only averaging 2.76 yards a carry to finish 115th nationally, UT needs to be able to control the line of scrimmage. It starts with the offensive line, led by junior right tackle Ja'Wuan James. The line has 106 starts combined going into the season, compared to only three a couple of years ago.
The Vols hope to make big plays through the air with junior quarterback Tyler Bray distributing the ball to wide receivers junior Justin Hunter, back from a torn ACL, and junior college transfer Cordarelle Patterson. In only two full games last year, Hunter had 17 receptions for 314 yards and two touchdowns. He will have to go up against one of the best cornerbacks in the country, junior David Amerson.
"He is really talented, ... a good guy, first round draft pick, so I have heard. He plays the deep ball really well and likes to go for it too," said Hunter. "Going against a guy like that, it's talent on talent. That will give me a good day, a good workout."
Patterson will be trying to make the jump from junior college to the SEC. He has received praise from all the coaches since he arrived on campus. With the dismissal of junior wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers last week, he will be more essential than ever.
"Now he has to go perform, and he knows that. We'll see how much the newness and the environment — it's the SEC against the ACC, and it's a big game on TV — and all that stuff, how it changes," said Dooley. "Nobody just goes in the first game and is the guy, so there is going to be an element of patience we are going to have to exercise."
Bray will also have a seasoned veteran for a safety valve in redshirt senior tight end Mychal Rivera.
On defense, the Vols return nine starters. Tennessee has to at least slow down N.C. State senior quarterback Mike Glennon. He returns after a junior campaign where he threw for over 3,000 yards and 31 TDs. The Vols will look to newcomers redshirt junior Darrington Sentimore and junior Daniel McCullers to provide pressure up front.
"I'm adapting well. I'm ready and my teammates are ready also," said Sentimore. "I think we worked very hard this offseason to get prepared to play against N.C. State and the rest of the teams in the SEC."
The strength of the defense should be the linebacker core, led by sixth year senior Herman Lathers. The secondary will be led by redshirt senior Prentiss Waggner in his natural position at cornerback.
The opening game will be televised on ESPNU. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. ET.