KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) – When Tennessee takes the field in the Georgia Dome against NC State, it will be doing so for the first time on a Friday during the regular season in 73 years.
It’s opponent will look the same as it did back then, however, as that contest was also against the Wolfpack, albeit in Raleigh, N.C., rather than Atlanta. The Vols won that game, 13-0.
Despite the change from the traditional Saturday game day, the Vols haven’t seen any significant changes in the way they have prepared.
From a preparation standpoint it really isn’t different because we just count the clock backwards,” UT head coach Derek Dooley said. “When it is Monday, it is Sunday. We treat it as if it was a Saturday game as it relates to our game week preparation. That doesn’t change.”
Just because the team hasn’t been affected by the change doesn’t mean there aren’t other factors to consider, something definitely not lost on Dooley.
“What does change is how it affects all of the fans and the high schools,” Dooley said. “It is certainly not something you want to do every year. Our leadership [knows] it is not something we want to do because we support the high schools so much and we don’t ever want to take away from their support. I think it is a one-time deal. The circumstances with the holiday weekend contributed to it and hopefully once this passes we won’t have this scenario again.
In addition to dealing with the change in game day, the Vols have also practiced indoors all week to get ready to play on the turf in the Georgia Dome, something the Vols haven’t done since 2009.
“It is really two-fold,” Dooley said. “It is about being inside but it is also about being on the surface that is similar to what you are going to get in the dome. We think it is going to help us a little bit, but you never get fully adjusted to a dome environment until you go in there.”
SHAKING OFF THE NERVES
Cordarrelle Patterson knows he has some big shoes to fill heading into Tennessee’s first game of the season.
The junior college transfer, who came to the university in hopes of playing alongside Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers in 2012, has been thrust into a starting position following the dismissal of Rogers. As disappointed as he is, he sees the starting role as an opportunity.
“It is very serious, you can’t let opportunities like that go to waste,” said Patterson. “You have to go in, do what you have to do and stay focused. There isn’t any pressure, but I think it is a good opportunity for me, even though he is gone. We miss him out here, but we have to move on.”
Patterson will fill multiple roles on Friday, like Hunter, at wide receiver and on the return team. Special team’s coach Charlie Coiner thinks the extra touches throughout the game will be beneficial to the team.
"You just asked about two explosive guys (in Hunter and Patterson),” said Coiner. “I'll put it like this, how many times does a receiver touch the ball on average during a game? If you told me they got 7 or 8 catches, we would say that was a pretty good game for them. Well I can guarantee you that they will touch the ball returning punts so you can see why we want them back there. We want those guys with the football."
Like Coiner, Patterson’s position coach Darin Hinshaw is eager to see what he can do in the Georgia Dome Friday night.
“I’m very excited about seeing him play,” said wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw. “He’s worked hard up to this point and it’s a deal where again we’re going in front of 75,000 people, so it going to be exciting to go watch him play.”
With the first night excitement, also comes first night jitters. Patterson has already claimed that he is anxious about his first Division I game and his coaches know to allow for some nervousness. They also know he will be able to pull it all together.
"He's figuring it out,” said offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. “It's all new for Cordarrelle. It's a different environment, trying to learn to practice the way we want, it's a complete learning curve. He's going to make some big plays; he's going to make some blunders. We fully expect that. We have a super talented man that has never been on the field for Tennessee. That's exactly what all first-game starters do; they all make a few mistakes. We are trying to minimize that to the best we can and let that boy be a football player. Because, he has demonstrated on video, too many times, that he's a talented player."
Hinshaw has helped calm some those nerves that Patterson has been feeling this week, by telling him to take it one snap at a time.
“The main thing with CP is I tell him to go play one snap at a time,” said Hinshaw. “Go play the best you can one snap at a time. Don’t be thinking about anything else or results. Focus on process. Focus on doing the best you can every snap. The rest will take care of itself. All of the little things equal big things. You don’t think about the big things. You worry about the little things – the details in routes and how we do things and what we do every snap and what we talk about. Don’t worry about big results and that stuff. Just focus on process. That’s why I always say in practice, ‘Imagine you’re playing in the game. Focus like you’re playing in the game.”
There are many connections among the Tennessee coaches and NC State. You have Derek Dooley having played under Pack head coach Tom O'Brien while they were at Virginia together from 1987-90. You have defensive line coach John Palermo, who began his coaching career with NC State as a graduate assistant in 1977-78.
Then there are the coaches that coached against NC State as rivals. Charlie Coiner spent 2010 with the North Carolina Tar Heels. That brings us to Sam Pittman, the Vols new offensive coach. Pittman spent the last five years as the UNC offensive line coach. But Pittman didn't have success against the Wolfpack as UNC lost all five games in that span including a 13-0 NC State win over the Tar Heels last season.
Pittman does take a positive from those games, as he has extensive experience facing NC State, which he hopes can benefit the Vols on Friday night.
"I think it's valuable because you will know some of the personal that they have," said Pittman, who joined Tennessee in January 2012. "Obviously they have some new guys as well. I'll say this about NC State. They are physical. They play hard. They play well with their hands and they go hard to the football. That's a sign of a great coached team. Coach (defensive line coach) Keith Willis does a great job over there. I have a lot of respect for him."
Pittman cites that NC State hasn't changed their scheme for the last five years, since O'Brien arrived at NC State after coaching at Boston College. He has great respect for their staff and system and know they continue to battle all game.
"They are identical to what they have been doing for 5 years and they have beat North Carolina every single time," Pittman said. "They are a physical group. They play hard. They are well coached. They are going to move on you and blitz you. And they haven't changed all that much. This team is going to play hard. Last year, they were down to Maryland 41-14 and came back to win 56-41."
SPEED CENTRAL FOCUS FOR SECONDARY
Tempo and speed have been the buzzwords on the indoor field at the Neyland-Thompson Center this week as the Tennessee defense gets set to unveil its new look against NC State in the Georgia Dome Friday night.
To its credit, the Vol defense appears to have taken on the challenge and hasn’t backed it down any in practice, going full bore to get ready for NC State’s potent offensive attack.
“They really are [playing fast], and that’s the one thing that we’ve really stressed,” Conklin said. “I just told them, when we go into Friday night, the one thing that I want to see is them playing at a high, high tempo. You have to be able to take all those fundamentals and techniques that you have and combine them with your God-given instincts and I think that’s important for them to understand. Don’t just be a robot out there.
“We are at game speed right now. Our scout team has done a good job of getting the looks that we need and the speed that we need. You’re also stressing to your guys all the time that you have to get faster from a defensive perspective.”
A primary factor in playing fast, which has nothing to do with the physical side of the game, is the communication between the linebackers and secondary. Making the play calls on the field this year will be senior linebacker Herman Lathers. Having such an experienced and veteran presence in the middle of the gridiron has greatly benefitted the Vols during preseason camp.
“It definitely helps having your alpha dog in the middle calling out the plays for the front and getting the right checks for the back end,” cornerbacks coach Derrick Ansley said. “Safeties are always signaling the calls from the back end, so a lot of the burden has fallen on them, but that’s the way we better our defense.
“Safeties make all the adjustments and checks to the corners and the cornerbacks have to do a good job knowing their assignments, too. It’s been better – we’re making progress and really getting better this week and we feel good about the people we have here communicating.”
When the Big Orange takes on the Wolfpack Friday, they expect to go up against an offense that won’t hesitate to put players in motion in an attempt to confuse the defense. That will require discipline to defend, but the Vols feel like the work they have put in on the practice field this week has them fully prepared.
“We’re anticipating a lot of shifts; we’re anticipating a lot of motion,” Conklin said. “I think our comfort level as a defense right now is pretty good. We’ve worked it a ton, we’ve worked it against our offense quite a bit, we’ve done it all of fall camp. We even touched on it in the spring. So, there is a little bit of anxiety early on, but we came off the field today and our guys were pretty sharp. They felt good about the adjustments. But also within that, we’re going to allow our guys to play fast as well and that’s what it comes down to – those one-on-one battles.”
With just one more practice before heading down I-75 to Atlanta, the Vols feel primed and ready to start the season.
“I’m very happy with where [the program] is at now,” Conklin said. “I’m excited with where our guys are at now. They’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty as far as what I anticipated when we first started installing in the spring. I’m excited to see where that carry over is on Friday night.”
CORNERBACKS COACH DERRICK ANSLEY
(On the younger players at cornerback)
“They’re still in the mix, they’re playing good. They’re doing some spurts and doing a good job on special teams – especially on kickoff and things of that sort so they’re role-players right now. We have some older guys now who we aren’t going to throw into the fire just yet, but they’re definitely guys we’re trying to develop for down the road.”
(On NC State)
“They’re very well-coached across the board. They have a lot of guys that can make plays with the ball in their hand. The quarterback is a really good player – he’s as solid as they come. He’s like a coordinator on the field, so he’s never going to put them in a bad situation. As a defense, we have to do a good job of minimizing what they’re trying to do to us and make in-game adjustments. It’s the first game, so you never know what you’re going to get. We’re throwing a lot of stuff at our guys and our guys should be ready for mostly anything they see. If not, then we’ll make sideline adjustments and get it fixed.
SPECIAL TEAMS/TIGHT ENDS COACH CHARLIE COINER
(On the punt game)
"The kicking job has been extremely competitive. They bring different things to the table. Obviously, Palardy has duel duties so that has to be taken into consideration. But I've been saying this all through spring, we as coaches don't want to speak too soon. We have got to look at the entire body of work to make our decision because we could be sitting here talking about completely different things in November."
(On Michael Palardy)
"I have been proud of Mike [Palardy]. He has definitely matured. Not that he wasn't mature before, but he was young. There is something to be said for getting out there and doing it and coming in the offseason and working hard. It's so comparable to golf. You know how it is on the golf course. It is all about consistency. You change one little thing with your golf swing and then you got four different things to figure out. That's how it is with kicking. We just try to preach consistency everyday with kicking."
(On the tight end corps)
"I look at it from top to bottom. I said it when Brendan Downs got hurt. And I love Downs. I wish he was out here, but he is not. So once he gets hurt, alright Brendan Downs you have to get well and go see the trainer and the doctor. I am not a doctor so I can't help Brendan Downs other than keep him with us mentally. Now what's my job? My job is coach the tight ends. I have to coach the heck out of Greg King and get him ready. Sometimes it can be a silver lining. When Brendan Downs gets healthy, then we have Greg King helping you out, too. It's a long season and if this kind of thing is going to happen. It is probably better it happen now."
(On how the Dome affects the kicking game)
"It is pretty ideal conditions for a kicker obviously. We take that into account. Usually, you have to worry about which way is the wind blowing and I know how that is after coaching in Chicago and Buffalo for nine years."
(On Ben Bartholomew)
"I can't say enough about Ben Bartholomew. He started as a fullback and now he is playing both with the tight ends. He is versatile and he is a team leader. It is really nice to have seniors like that in the locker room. It really helps me out."
SAFTIES COACH JOSH CONKLIN
(On NC State quarterback Mike Glennon)
“We respect every opponent, but he is a good, solid player. He can do a lot of good things – he can make every throw on the field. With respect means that we have to give him our very best.”
(On coaching from the press box during games)
“I’ve spent some time in the box and I’ve spent some time on the sideline, but I’m going to be up in the box this year. We talked about it as a staff. With coordinator experience, I think we’ll have some good sets of eyes up in the box. When we did the mock game last week, we had some good communication. We went in blind as a coaching staff as far as the guys up in the box just so we could read the information that we needed to relay. Being around guys who are acting like it’s game day definitely helps you out as you go in.”
(On Sal Sunseri)
“I think he’s very excited to make his Tennessee debut. It’s been nothing but positive for me working with him. Every time you go to a place, you find out how differently guys view things and how they approach it. You love his intensity and the expectations that he sets and that’s the one thing I really value about him is the expectation. He says, here is the standard, and go meet it – that’s players and coaches included. It pushes you every single day to come into work and demand the very best from yourself. It’s the level of intensity and what he demands [that sets him apart]. He’s very creative in finding ways and finding answers to stop the play.
RUNNING BACKS COACH JAY GRAHAM
(On the number of guys he expects to play Friday)
“It just depends. Sometimes a guy takes over a game and he ends up getting the majority of the plays and carries. With this game, I think all three guys will play, but you never know how the situation is going to go. It depends on how many plays, how much success we have, how many plays on offense and how the guys are doing.”
(On pressure on the RBs)
“We haven’t talked about that. We’ve just been trying to do our job and whatever play is called we’re going to do what we need to do.”
(On NC State’s offensive line)
“They’ve got some guys up front. Their quick, strong guys that can run so they’ve done well. They put some pressure on you, because they’ve got the DBs back there that can make plays. They have really good defensive backs.”
(On the RBs involvement in the passing game)
“It remains to be seen, but I think they’ll be involved. We’ve got guys in the backfield that are fast and can catch the ball. Rajion played wide receiver so we’ve got some guys that can make some plays out on the perimeter.”
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH DARIN HINSHAW
(On Vincent Dallas returning to the wide receiver position)
“I’m really excited about Vincent. He came back and he jumped back into the playbook and it’s like he didn’t miss a beat from the spring. Really good and he’s working hard. I’m really excited about him coming back and what he’s done the last couple of days. He has really worked hard.”
(On NC State’s secondary)
“They are very good. They’re a very good secondary. They obviously have a lot of snaps and played a lot of games together. You can just watch them on film and understand that they know what they’re doing really well. They know their coverages really well, they know where they have to be and they make plays. You can see by the interceptions they’ve made a lot of plays in the secondary.”
(On if NC State’s secondary will be a good test for league play)
“Well it’s just like anything. We take it one game at a time and we know what’s ahead of us. These guys are a really good football team. They’re really well-coached, they know what they’re doing and, again, that secondary has been together for a long time.”
(On his confidence in the freshmen receivers)
“They’ve been working hard. Cody (Blanc) has been here all spring and done a good job. A lot of the freshmen have got their roles that they’ve got to play. When we’ve got an opportunity to make a play, we’ve got to go make plays. All the newcomers and Vincent coming back over to offense, he’s doing a good job for us. But it’s about making plays, doing your assignment one play at a time.”
(On how valuable Zach Rogers is)
“Zach is a senior. He’s savvy. He understands coverages. He knows how to get open and he’s got to go make plays for us. I’ve got to tell you, I’m really proud of Zach and he’s been a leader for our group.”
(On how many receivers he anticipates playing against NC State)
“It can be anywhere around six, which is what we think will happen. Six is what we’re prepared for. It just depends on the situations in the game and all that kind of stuff. We’re ready to play six.”
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH JOHN PALERMO
(On what he wants to see from the defensive line)
“I want to see the same things from [the starting defensive line] as I expect from everyone – I expect them to play well. I want us to keep our pads down, I want us to be physical, I want us to play smart. I hope they do [have a sense of urgency]. That’s what we’ve been practicing against on offense. We’ve got to be able to get lined up first and foremost and we have to be able to play good technique and do our job, which is the most important thing. We can’t try to do someone else’s job.”
“Right now it’s a work in progress. I think we see bits and pieces of it, but the real test for leadership comes during a game when things aren’t going good. It’s what kind of leaders do we have to pull the defense back together so they can turn the corner and play well.”
“I’ve been doing this for 38 years and I don’t think any team has met my expectations, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH SAM PITTMAN
(On what NC State does on defense)
"I think they do a lot of movement. But that comes with their blitz packages. You're not going to play NC State and get a base front. They're going to move and bring linebackers and they will line up in three or four different fronts to try and confuse you a bit."
(On whether UT is comfortable against that movement)
"We certainly hope we have. Movement is one of those things that is hard to duplicate especially the speed. NC State's pace and speed is hard to duplicate when they bring linebacker blitzes and all these type things they have. I think we are ready for it, but we will see."
(On developing backups on the offensive line)
"It's a big deal. Everybody knows that Dallas Thomas was going to be the next left tackle. Obviously when you got a guy that's started for two years, it's not a bad thing at all. We just have to decide who will be the next guard and tackle on the right side."
(On if the offensive line is game ready)
"Physically, we are ready to play the game. Mentally, we are ready to play the game. I'm concerned about all the movement from NC State. I hope we are ready for it. But I think we have practiced it enough that we will be. I think the guys are excited about playing. I think they have had a good camp. I think they feel like they are ready to go physically. They seem to be in a good mood. They have been working hard. I am excited to see them play."