Vols sophomore running back Marlin Lane earned a start -- in our opinion -- with his season-opening performance in the Georgia Dome Friday night.
Last season, the inaugural edition of "Looked the Part" and "Bless His Heart" took on a life of its own.
Every week, we awarded Tennessee players who performed well with our version of game MVP, which means that the guy "looked the part" of being a difference-maker for the Vols.
The other, ahem, "award" needs a little explanation: In the South, we're all about being cordial, even in the face of extreme circumstances. If somebody's life is a complete failure, we'll shake our heads and say, "Bless his heart." If we see an ugly baby, we smile and lie, but when we get in the car with our significant other, we utter the same phrase. It's our way of being nice while being mean inside.
So, UT's biggest disappointment player gets the "Bless his heart" distinction.
This year, we've added one more award, given to an unsung hero who didn't begin the game in the starting lineup. If we think a player performed well enough, we'll give him the "Earned a Start" award. So, there you go -- the final player report now hands out hardware [not really] to three players every week. So, here are this week's recipients for UT's 35-21 win over North Carolina State.
LOOKED THE PART
CORDARRELLE PATTERSON: Is there anybody who deserves this award more? Tyler Bray maybe had his best game as a Tennessee quarterback given the competition he played. Curt Maggitt and Eric Gordon were difference makers on defense. But nobody had as huge an impact as Patterson, who hauled in a long touchdown catch for his first -- and the Vols' first -- touchdown of the season, before adding a 67-yard touchdown run on an end-around that was one for the highlight reels. He made two cuts that corkscrewed Wolfpack defenders then outran All-American cornerback David Amerson, who appeared to have the angle on him. He finished with two rushes for 72 yards and caught six balls for 93 yards, leading the team with those 165 all-purpose yards. That's a little more impact than UT's last heralded junior college wide receiver recruit, Kenny O'Neal.
BLESS HIS HEART
RAJION NEAL: The junior running back from Fayetteville, Ga., was hoping to have a storybook homecoming to the Georgia Dome in his first game as UT's outright starter at running back. He is a workout monster who has more speed and strength than any runner in Vols history. After a bad 2011 running the ball, the Vols were hoping Neal was an emphatic answer. He may well be, but he wasn't Friday. He had just 53 yards on 22 carries for an average of 2.4 yards per carry. I counted nine times that he flat-out missed a hole inside in favor of bouncing it to the edge and appeared too timid to run between the tackles. Derek Dooley was noticeably animated and angered at his starter several times throughout the game, stressing to keep it inside. Neal danced around and too many times was corralled in the backfield. When he finally got his nose dirty, he pushed it up the middle for an impressive touchdown run. Neal can do it, but he struggled mightily in his debut and really needs to seek contact more. This game wasn't on the offensive line.
EARNED A START
MARLIN LANE: Neal's poor performance opened the door for someone else to step up, and that person was the sophomore running back from Daytona Beach, Fla. Though he failed to show the burst again that he had before his gruesome high school knee injury, getting caught from behind on what should have been a long touchdown run, Lane was easily the most effective and assertive back on the night. Twice, he lowered his shoulder and challenged a defender. It seemed every time he touched the ball, he barreled inside, trying to show the coaches that he was better than the Vols' third-string tailback. He finished with nine carries for 75 yards -- an 8.3 average -- including the 42-yard run that set up Neal's touchdown. Whether or not he'll be in the starting lineup for Georgia State remains to be seen, but when this week's depth chart came out Monday, he was bracketed as a co-starter with Neal and Devrin Young. Needless to say, he'll serve a bigger role in the offense.
[Honorable mention: Zach Rogers]