In the aftermath of their first win in the Georgia Dome since 1998, Tennessee returned to practice confident but aware of shortcomings.
Their win over N.C. State on Friday left the Vols feeling good about where they are this season. Head coach Derek Dooley said he was proud of the team's transition from training camp to a gameday situation.
"That was my No. 1 thing for those guys, was that the same team that was out there for practice was out there for gameday," Dooley said.
Dooley stressed that one game does not define a season. He said it was good to have a quality win early in the season and that he hopes it will inspire confidence in the team to maintain their level of dedication.
"Each week you find out more and more about your team," Dooley said. "I feel like I have a better handle on our guys this year than I have ever had. Sometimes you look great early and you fall flat on your face and sometimes you look horrendous early and you end up winning ten games."
Dooley's confidence in the Vols isn't unfounded. Tennessee posted 191 yards rushing, the highest total since last season's 199-yard effort against Buffalo. In spite of the success, no running back emerged as the clear favorite to win the starting role, as three players — Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal and Devrin Young — were all listed as co-starters for this week.
"The most important thing is who's producing on gameday," Dooley said. "You have to get in there and take advantage of your opportunity and you'll keep getting the ball. That part hasn't changed."
Zach Fulton was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week, but maintained the theme of improvement for himself and the offensive line as a group, saying he didn't think he played that well individually.
"I could be a lot better," Fulton said. "As a group, we did pretty well. We have a few things to clean up, but it was a good way to establish ourselves early. We're always going to try to get more rushing yards than we did the week before."
Offseason hire and former Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri brought the 3-4 defensive scheme with him that was on full display for the first time on Friday.
The players all thought the transition went well, a few plays in the first half notwithstanding.
"I would say we settled down a little bit and communicated a lot more (after the first half)," linebacker Curt Maggitt said. "There was a few times where you could see we weren't ready and just didn't have the calls in. In the second half, I felt on the same page a lot more.
"I feel like a lot of our errors were self-inflicted. If we can correct them, we can be a better defense."
The defense pressured N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon, sacking him only once, but creating four interception opportunities for the secondary. Tennessee only picked up 18 takeaways all of last season. UT and Kansas were the only teams to have four interceptions in week one.
"I think the guys pretty much feel good about (the change to 3-4)," defensive back Prentiss Waggner said. "I think we had like 12 or 14 hits on the QB. When we hit the QB that well, the whole defense is going to have a fun day. On my interception, it was pretty much all Coach Sal. He called the perfect play and let me make the play."
Tennessee takes on Georgia State this Saturday at 4 p.m. The Panthers lost to South Carolina State 33-7 last weekend, but Dooley emphasized the importance of not overlooking FCS opponents, especially with three FCS teams defeating FBS schools last weekend.
"We're cleaning up a ton of mistakes from the game," Dooley said. "Regardless of the opponent, regardless of the environment or venue, we need to learn to come out there and perform with the same intangibles, same levels of execution, the same intensity. That's what good teams do."
Fulton echoed Dooley's sentiment that there is room for growth before next week.
"We haven't done anything yet," Fulton said. " We're not even in conference play yet. That's what it comes down to. We'll take this next week to get better."
Head coach Derek Dooley said that despite mistakes, he was proud of the players and their overall performance.
"It was a good win for our team. We made a lot of mistakes in the first half, but had a lot of big plays," Dooley said. "(There were) a lot of missed opportunities. We gotta hang in there, but I was really proud of how we played in the second half."
Though the Wolfpack's offense managed to avoid a blowout, N.C. State quarterback Mike Glennon was unable to avoid UT's defense, giving up four interceptions and losing the game. N.C. State head coach Tom O'Brien said he had to give credit to Tennessee for just being a good football team.
"It just came down to too many big plays we gave up on defense," O'Brien said. "We turned the ball over too many times. What it boils down to is too many long plays and long drives."
Junior starting quarterback Tyler Bray threw for 333 yards total and two touchdowns. Bray said the win was huge for the team, helping them move on from a losing season last fall.
"We kind of forgot about last year," Bray said. "We kind of moved on since then. We knew we could come out here and exploit some things (N.C. State) did on defense and that could lead to some big plays."
Junior wide receiver Justin Hunter, who had a few mistakes throughout the game, said Bray's performance was a game-changer.
"I think he made a lot of good decisions out there and did what he had to do to help us win," Hunter said.
Dooley said he was proud of Bray's management in the throwing game.
"Tyler (Bray) did a good job with the ball, especially in the red area," Dooley said. "He took care of the football."
Junior wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson posted 93 yards in his first division-one game. Junior linebacker Dontavis Sapp said he hopes Patterson will continue to perform.
"He's got a great chance to be one of the best in the league," Sapp said. "As you saw tonight, he played a great game. Hopefully, this will lead to me not being double-teamed."
Dooley was also impressed with Patterson's performance.
"He had a couple of huge plays," he said. "He's big and fast and can catch the ball."
The Vols will face Georgia State next week in their home opener. Dooley said the N.C. State game was just the beginning.
"It's one game," Dooley said. "All that matters is that we're 1-0 and we have to clean up a ton of mistakes. We're not going to pat ourselves on the back because we won a game."