With just two weeks left before the Volunteers first game of the season Derek Dooley was still skeptical and his defensive backfields capability to stop the big plays.
"We gave up to many big plays on defense," said Dooley following the August 17 scrimmage. "There were a lot of communication problems."
Though the Tennessee secondary did give up some big plays, four for over 20 yards, they were able to intercept four Mike Glennon passes. Glennon, a fifth-year senior and highly touted quarterback for this year in the ACC, finished the 2011 year with 31 touchdown passes and threw for over 3,000 yards.
"We got a lot more comfortable as the game went on," said defensive back Brian Randolph. "We affected the quarterback as the game went on. It gives us a lot of confidence going forward."
Safety Byron Moore and cornerbacks Prentiss Waggner, Eric Gordon and Marsalis Teague all tallied a pick in the game.
"We gave up a lot of big plays over the middle early, but we settled down and figured it out," said Dooley. "I always say the two things to look for are who wins the turnover battle and time of possession and we did a real good job of winning the turnover battle."
Moore also led all Tennessee players with eight tackles against the Wolfpack, and the Volunteer secondary accounted for 32 of Tennessee's 57 tackles.
"We wanted to come out and establish our trademark, our standard for how Tennessee is going to play this year. It felt good to play four quarters," said Moore.
The secondary is one of the more seasoned groups on the Tennessee roster, boasting six juniors and two seniors.
This has helped the defensive backfield adjust quickly to the new schemes of defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and his 3-4 defense.
"There was some change because obviously we have a new defensive coordinator but we have had it since the spring," Gordon said. "We have been hammering it home and got a lot of the stuff down and we're very familiar with it."
Randolph, Moore, Waggner and Teague got the starts for the Vols, but Gordon and Brent Brewer both saw extended playing time in the nickel and dime packages. The Vols like to send lots of blitzes in the new scheme and against N.C. State the Volunteers frequently sent Gordon after the quarterback on second and third-and-long situations.
"I always notice Eric out there making plays, even in practice," Waggner. "He sort of has a knack for making plays, he is always around the football. The main thing with Eric right now is just training, playing fast all the time. When he is playing fast all the time he can make even more plays."
Dooley still sees room for improvement from the unit, but sees that they have the ability to influence the game in a big way.
"Yeah, we have lots to work on, but we made good in game adjustments," Dooley said.
The group held Glennon to 27-46, 58 percent, 288 yards through the air with one touchdown.
Through the off-season the group experienced growing pains, but matching up against a talented quarterback and receivers day-in-and-day-out helped the secondary learn how to communicate properly and pick up the new defense.
The Volunteers will have their work cut out for them with the SEC slate that awaits them when they reach October, but the team is confident in the defensive backfield.
"It's one game...All that matters is that we are 1-0 and we have to clean up a ton of mistakes," said Dooley. "We're not going to pat ourselves on the back because we won one game. They're times you're going to be winded you have to get over it and keep playing. Our guys have to understand that our tempo is going to wear them down."