KNOXVILLE -- Georgia State took its opening offensive possession to Tennessee's 3-yard line, but the Volunteers' defenders already knew how the drive would end.
Sal Sunseri, their fiery coordinator, was awaiting them on the sideline.
The overmatched Panthers had hit on two long passes on third down and converted a fourth down, which wouldn't please Sunseri very much.
"He reacted pretty calmly because he knew it wasn't nothing they were doing," safety Brian Randolph said. "That was kind of surprising."
That was the only one of those Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee's offense carved through Georgia State's defense to the tune of 558 yards, and the defense settled in after another shaky start in the Vols' 51-13 win against the Panthers, a fledgling program in its third year of existence.
"We came out, and we didn't have the spunk I was hoping we'd have," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "We put together a real good first drive and scored, though. We did a good job, and in the third quarter we imposed our will a little bit."
Georgia State drove 60 yards on its first drive, but the Panthers struggled to execute shotgun snaps at times and managed just 95 yards the rest of the first half. Tennessee led 28-6 at halftime, and a 13-point third quarter put the game away. The Vols substituted freely the rest of the soggy afternoon.
Quarterback Tyler Bray was one Vol who wishes he could have kept playing. The junior was dialed in for an 18-of-20 passing performance. He didn't throw an incompletion after the first quarter and completed his last 13 passes.
Most of his 310 yards went to tight end Mychal Rivera and receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter, who caught eight passes for 146 yards and three of Bray's four touchdown throws.
"I've told you guys, Tyler is the best quarterback in the country," Rivera said. "That's how I feel. He goes through his progressions, he has a 6-foot-6 frame, he sees over the offensive line and he throws perfect balls."
Bray came to the podium after his senior tight end and was asked about that declaration.
"I just think Mych's sucking up," he joked. "He wants more passes, so he's always going to say something like that. I missed a read and threw it deep to [Patterson] in the first quarter when I should have just dumped it down and got the first down."
Dooley noted the "free access" Tennessee's passing game had, as Vols were continually open. Yet Bray, who's now 45-of-51 passing for 643 yards and six touchdowns through two games, again was patient in the pocket. Tennessee's only turnovers were a Marlin Lane fumble and an interception thrown by Justin Worley that was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
"Everybody was having fun," Hunter said. "It was like gifts out there. The defense was playing a lot of inside zone coverages. Some of the catches were [easy], but we just dialed it up how we did in practice, and they played the same thing."
The announced crowd of 87,821 wasn't having much fun until the second quarter. Rain dampened the usual home-opener anticipation, and the Vols were lethargic in the first half. In addition to Georgia State making that opening drive, Tennessee's Michael Palardy missed a field goal and Marlin Lane fumbled.
"We really talked about it this week that this game is about us, it's about what we can do, and we just came out a little sluggish," Rivera said.
Randolph said Tennessee's relaxed on those two third-down plays, but like the season-opening win against North Carolina State, the Vols settled in defensively. The Panthers exploited the middle of the field with slants and crossing routes, and Tennessee missed more tackles than it did in game one. Yet Georgia State's only other points came following Lane's fumble and in the waning seconds against the Vols' backups.
Sunseri's reaction -- and the opponent -- helped turn the afternoon into the easy one Tennessee was expecting.
"We all pretty much knew we were messing up a little bit," Randolph said. "I think the fact that he was chill about it helped us out. We knew we had to get stuff fixed.
"He knew we knew we had to get better."
The Vols will need exactly that with Florida coming to Knoxville this week off its own big win.
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 ...
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