ATLANTA, Ga. — It appeared Tennessee’s prospects for a high-powered offense might be hampered by Da’Rick Rogers’ departure last week, but junior-college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson looks like excellent fire insurance for a team that was burned by Rogers’ decisions.
Patterson, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior playing in his first Division I college game, caught a 41-yard touchdown pass in the opening 3½ minutes and rushed for a 67-yard TD on an end around later in the first quarter, and Tennessee was well on its way to a season-opening 35-21 win against North Carolina State in the Georgia Dome.
Patterson easily beat touted cornerback David Amerson’s man-to-man coverage up the left sideline to catch a deep throw in stride from Tyler Bray for the first score. He started left on the end around, broke back across the field and outran Amerson despite the cornerback having an angle to the right sideline on the scoring run, which gave the Vols a 22-7 lead with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
Patterson’s run was the fourth straight play from scrimmage that was either a Tennessee score or a North Carolina State turnover.
It began when the Wolfpack, returning the key nucleus of a team that went 8-5 last season, led 7-6 and had 4th-and-3 at the Tennessee 35-yard line with 1:31 left in the first quarter. The Vols’ Prentiss Waggner stopped the drive with an interception, and on the ensuing play, Bray threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to Zach Rogers. The senior from David Lipscomb adjusted well to the towering throw that traveled 55-60 yards. Michael Palardy’s PAT gave UT a 13-7 lead.
The Wolfpack returned the ensuing kickoff to its 19, and quarterback Mike Glennon fumbled while being sacked by Curt Maggit around the 3, and NC State recovered it in the end zone for a Tennessee safety.
The 15-7 score was brief, as Patterson’s long TD run came on the first play after UT’s kick return.
”You know, I always say the two biggest indicators in winning and losing are turnover ratio and big plays, “ UT coach Derek Dooley said. “And those were the two areas where I felt like that we had the margin, and that was the difference in the game.”
Patterson finished with six catches for 93 yards and two rushes for 72 yards.
“He had a couple of big plays,” Dooley said. “And he showed that he’s big and fast and can catch. I mean, he showed what we’ve been saying.
“Not sure if he ran the right route. But that’s the beauty of Bray — he don’t care, he’s gonna let it fly.”
Justin Hunter, a 6-foot-4 receiver playing his first game since a season-ending ACL tear last September at Florida, had nine catches for 73 yards.
“Those wide recievers, they’re good,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien said. “I mean, they’re big and they can run … 6-4 on the either side, and can run like they do, that puts some stress on a defense.”
The Wolfpack got within 22-14 on James Washington’s 2-yard run with 3:42 left in the first half.
UT thought it had answered when Bray appeared to break the plane of the goal line with the ball on a second-effort lunge on a quarterback sneak. But it was ruled that the ball was knocked backward before reaching the line, and NC State recovered at its 3 with 11 seconds in the half.
UT fans, who appeared to at least double the Wolfpack’s contingent in the crowd of 55,529, were certain the call would be reversed with the aid of the replay they were watching on the JumboTron, and were stunned when the turnover stood.
Bray was 27-of-41 passing for 333 yards and the two TDs. Sophomore Marlin Lane led UT’s backs with nine carries for 75 yards and a touchdown. Rajion Neal rushed 22 times for 63 yards, including an 8-yard TD that gave the Vols a 29-14 lead with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
Some three minutes later, Palardy’s 20-yard field goal stretched the lead to 32-14.
Glennon’s 5-yard TD pass to Bryan Underwood and the PAT made the score 32-21 with 13:46 remaining.
Tennessee out-gained the Wolfpack 524-407, and out-rushed it 191-119.
Byron Moore, Eric Gordon and Marsalis Teague also had interceptions for the Vols. Moore also had a team-high eight tackles. Defensive lineman Maurice Couch also forced a fumble.
Notes: A fan fell from the third deck to the second deck, , some 30-35 feet, and was taken to a hospital in the first quarter. According to an ESPN reporting, the 20-year-old man fell while celebrating Tennessee’s second toucshdown — the 72-yard pass to Rogers. … After offensive tackle Dallas Thomas tried on the leather helmet trophy, Dooley put it on, which made quite a sight with his bright orange pants and an even brighter smile. … Tennessee hosts Georgia State on Saturday at 4 p.m. Coach Billy Curry’s Panthers also opened in the Georgia Dome. They lost 33-6 to South Carolina State on Thursday.