It took 38 seconds for Tennessee to show there’s a chance “Rocky Top” may be heard at the Georgia Dome again in December.
The Volunteers scored 16 points in 38 seconds in the first half and used that momentum to defeat N.C. State 35-21 on Friday in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in front of 55,529 attendees.
Playing without Calhoun’s Da’Rick Rogers, and appearing not to need the troubled wide receiver who was dismissed from the team last week, quarterback Tyler Bray and the Volunteers had no trouble doing most anything it wanted offensively against what is supposed to be one of the better defenses in the ACC. Bray passed for 332 yards and two TDs, outdueling N.C. State’s Mike Glennon (288 yards, one TD, four interceptions), and the Vols shredded the Wolfpack for 526 yards.
“It was a great game,” Bray said. “We haven’t won here since the National Championship. This was great for the state of Tennessee.”
The victory snapped a six-game losing streak for the Vols in Georgia Dome, dating back to the 2001 SEC Championship game. This year’s SEC title game will be played at the Dome on Dec. 1. The Vols may very well be back if the offense can continue its balanced play and the defense can continue to make big plays, which included a safety and four turnovers.
“I already know what you guys are going to say. It’s one game,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said to the media after the game. “It doesn’t mean anything other than we won the first game.”
The victory improved the SEC to 4-1 in Chick-fil-A Kickoff games, with each victory coming against an ACC team, a fact the Tennessee fans had no trouble reminding their foes from the ACC of near the end of the game. The ACC dropped to 0-4 in another toe-stubbing performance for the conference in a marquee game. Clemson, the conference champs, will be the next to take a crack at beating an SEC team in the Chick-fil-A series when it takes on Auburn on Saturday at the Dome.
“It just game down to too many big plays we gave up on defense,” N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said. ” We turned the ball over too many times. What it boils down to is too many long plays and long drives.”
The game went back-and-forth early. Bray hit Cordarrelle Patterson for a 41-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead on the Vols’ second possession. Dooley said Patterson may have run the wrong route, “but that’s the great thing about Bray, he doesn’t care.” Patterson ran right by David Amerson,.
The Wolfpack answered with a 2-yard scoring run by Tony Creecy to take a 7-6 lead with 5:15 left in the quarter.
Prentiss Waggner intercepted Glennon’s short pass near the 40-yard line on fourth down on the Wolfpack’s next drive.
Bray and Tennessee’s defense then unloaded in a thrilling 38-second span.
On the next play, Bray hit Zach Rogers, who also beat Amerson by several yards, for a 72-yard touchdown. Amerson, who led the country last year with 13 interceptions, said he thought he had deep help on the play. The Vols didn’t miss the point-after this time to take a 13-7 lead with 1:07 left.
Taking over at his 19-yard line, Glennon tried to stiffarm linebacker Curt Maggitt in an attempt to buy more time on first down. Instead, Maggitt punched the ball out of Glennon’s hand. An N.C. State player fell on the ball in the end zone for a safety to give Tennessee a 15-7 lead with 51 seconds left in the first quarter.
And then it got even worse for the Wolfpack.
Taking over at his 33-yard line after the kick, Bray handed the ball to Patterson, crossing left behind him, and Patterson ran 67 zig-zagging yards to give the Vols a 22-7 lead with 29 seconds left.
O’Brien said the boom-boom-boom spell didn’t affect his team.
“We kept playing, we just didn’t play good enough,” he said.
N.C. State answered with a 2-yard scoring run by Washington to cut the lead to 22-14 with 3:42 left.
Tennessee took a 29-14 lead on their first possession of the second half when Rajion Neal plowed in from 8 yards out, breaking three tackles.
“We missed a lot of tackles,” O’Brien said.
Tennessee safety Byron Moore intercepted Glennon at the 30 later in the quarter and returned it to N.C. State’s 45. The Volunteers eventually kicked a 20-yard field goal to increase their lead to 32-14 with 1:28 left in the third quarter.
It was one of three interceptions in the half by the Vols’ defense, which limited the Wolfpack to 169 yards in the second half after posting 238 in the first.
“We’re going to have to learn how to grit through four quarters,” Dooley said. “There’s a lot of adversity in a football game. We didn’t handle it very well in the first half, but did better in the second half. I’m proud of the way we finished.”