KNOXVILLE -- Cordarrelle Patterson was unable to recall lining up as a tailback at any previous time in his football career.
Tennessee put the star receiver back there against Mississippi State in another example of the Volunteers' increased efforts to get the ball in the hands of the supremely talented junior college transfer.
After he racked up 195 all-purpose yards against the Bulldogs, Tennessee will look for more creative ways to get Patterson touches on offense.
"We'll find them if there is," coach Derek Dooley said Monday, "because we've got to get the ball in this guy's hands a lot. He's got a real special set of skills. We're going to keep finding ways to get him the ball. We'd be crazy if we didn't."
The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder is now second in the Southeastern Conference in all-purpose yardage per game (139.2). Patterson showed his shiftiness, speed and vision on a number of plays, including a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Tennessee's first score of that variety in eight years. One of his two catches was an 11-yard touchdown grab.
He totaled 57 rushing yards on three carries, most notably a 34-yard gain on a reverse when Mississippi State appeared to have him surrounded for a significant loss. Patterson shook a tackle from defensive end Denico Autry, reversed field and got to the edge. Bulldogs cornerback Darius Slay's tackle kept it from going the distance.
"You just laugh and chuckle because you know how C.P. is and you know he's going to joke around about it," tailback/returner Devrin Young said. "You're just happy to have a guy like that on the team. It's hard to tell anybody no when they make something out of nothing.
"C.P.'s a talented, gifted player, and why contain that when you don't have to?"
On his one play out of the backfield, Patterson ran 15 yards on a simple toss play.
"It's something we've been working on for a long time," Patterson said. "Saturday the play was called and I got back there. It's pretty good, just getting out there and showing my talents and doing different things out there."
Dooley said starting tailback Rajion Neal is "doubtful" to play against top-ranked Alabama on Saturday after spraining his ankle in the third quarter against Mississippi State. The Vols' leading rusher left the stadium Saturday in a walking boot, and though he wasn't seen wearing one Monday, he didn't practice.
Marlin Lane, Tennessee's No. 2 tailback who left the MSU game with a quadriceps injury, practiced Monday and was given a "probable" tag from Dooley.
Losing Neal and Lane against the Bulldogs left Tennessee with two diminutive options at tailback in Devrin Young (5-8, 172) and freshman Quenshaun Watson (5-9, 175). Young ran tough, but his fourth-quarter fumble was costly. The sophomore from Knoxville was visibly bothered by it after the game and answered questions about it Monday.
"That's obvious," he said. "I felt like I had a huge part in that loss. That was hard to bear."
He dubbed the rest of his 13-carry, 58-yard performance "a start" and noted he can improve in some areas after running "pretty well" in his first big opportunity of the season.
If Neal indeed can't go against the Crimson Tide's top-rated defense, the Vols could get creative with their ground attack, though the run calls didn't change much after the injuries. The wildcat package with freshman Alton "Pig" Howard had success. A similar package with freshman Justin King also has worked in limited chances this season.
"We've got some guys that can do some things," Dooley said. "I was really proud of our runners. Devrin really ran well.
"We're going to trying to get the ball to the guys we think can do some things. We ran the ball probably better than we've ever run it, against an SEC team at least. We didn't look as explosive throwing the ball, but we got ourselves in a position to win."
Bray wears big brace
Tyler Bray could have been mistaken for an offensive lineman with the bulky brace the Vols' starting quarterback wore on his left knee Monday. His leg was twisted under him during the third quarter against Mississippi State, but an MRI taken Sunday revealed no significant damage.
Bray didn't practice Monday, but Dooley said he's probable for Alabama.
"We kind of rested him today, but he'll go tomorrow," the coach said. "He feels good."
The diagnosis on linebacker Curt Maggitt isn't so positive. In addition to turf toe, the sophomore now is dealing with a "stinger issue" that could further limit his ability to practice and play. Maggitt did not practice Monday.
"We're not as good on defense without him," Dooley said. "It's just a lingering problem. He couldn't play much in that game, and I don't know how much he's going to play this game."
Michael Palardy "probably" will add punting to his kickoff and place-kicking duties against Alabama, Dooley said. One of his kickoffs went out of bounds, but Palardy made a 38-yard field goal and ripped off two 54-yard punts, though one was negated by a formation penalty, when he replaced Matt Darr after Darr's first punt went 14 yards.
One of those booming kicks was a rugby-style punt.
"We've been working on it for a while," Palardy said. "We usually do it so the returner doesn't really have one thing he's focusing on [and] he's not going straight down the middle of the field. We have him running all over the place. Usually we do it for teams that have good returners and that are fast and elusive to get them on their toes and move them around."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...