The following list is presented in no order whatsoever, but since we saw real actual live full-speed Tennessee football on Friday night, may as well hit as many high points and/or low points as we can.
1. So it turns out Cordarrelle Patterson is pretty good. We had an inkling of this from the recruiting rankings alone and from some of the comments from the coaching staff in preseason. Then he gets 8 touches for 165 yards and 2 TDs in his first game at this level, and he doesn't look the least bit out of place. If anyone had concern about the passing game and what the receiving corps would look like, those fears are allayed. Heck, seeing the WR end-around get busted out for Patterson was a pleasant surprise, although I wouldn't expect a TD on it 50% of the time.
2. On a related note: 9 different guys caught passes on Friday, and 6 caught more than one pass. The biggest surprise (that has nothing to do with Zach Rogers beating David Amerson)? Four of those guys were either RBs or FBs, which is a sign - mostly - that Bray's doing a good job recognizing coverages and hitting the checkdown if nothing is there. There were a couple of Idiot Screens (if you're calling a screen pass on 3rd and long, just punt and save yourself the time), but for the most part those were of the swing / outlet variety. I think I saw an angle route or two in there, too. I was a little surprised that Mychal Rivera didn't see the ball more, but, well, see the next point.
3. Justin Hunter had 17 targets. Seventeen! It's almost a shame his targets weren't draft-eligible. I don't think that's going to continue, but that's one way to ensure he gets back to game speed. I can see something similar happening against Georgia State until (unless?) the game gets out of hand, but 40+% of the team's targets is probably ever-so-slightly excessive, especially with more than a few worthy options elsewhere.
4. While we're talking about the passing game (and yes, I'll cover the rest of the game at some point): Tyler Bray looked excellent. I liked this game from him less because of his sheer power as much as his ability to find the open man. Credit to the NC State defense for making a few nice recoveries to break up a couple of passes, but for the most part, Bray put the ball where he wanted it to go. There were even a couple of throw-aways I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have done last year, but if the options when you pass are completion, great play by a DB, or dropped pass, that's a good sign. Now, about those dropped passes: cut that out.
5. On a related note, I hope someone's thrown a bucket of water on Amerson, because people shouldn't be allowed to get burned like that for that long. Only you can prevent cornerback fires.
6. The run game blocking didn't look like an absolute trainwreck. Good! Now, someone needs to tell Raijon Neal to get his butt north-south in a hurry, because there were more than a few plays that effectively wasted yards here and there. Marlin Lane did a much better job - with the blocking scheme they're using, it's far more effective to make one cut and go then make three cuts, bounce it outside, and let the secondary get to you. Just throwing that out there.
7. What ended up happening as a result of Neal's east-west ineffectiveness? Lots of third downs, and even though Tennessee converted nine third downs, they had 19 of them. That's a good ratio, but it belies the bigger point: don't have 19 third downs in the first place! That's a lot of plays that end up needing a third-down conversion in order to continue the drive. When it's going well, it results in things like a 14-play drive (which was basically "run going nowhere, run going nowhere, great pass, repeat"), an 11-play drive (turned over on downs), and a 12-play drive (that Bray fumble). When it's not going well? Punt central.
8. Let's stay on the number of total plays and do a quick good/bad. Good: 79 total plays! That's a sign the offense is effective and staying on the field. Bad: of those 79 plays, 57 of those were part of a set of downs that included a third down (59, if you count the two fourth down attempts), which is a sign that while ball control is useful, the offense should be doing more on first and second down. The good news? Those fixes are simple.
9. Next week, look for more north-south running, and look for a bit more passing on first and second down. I'm not advocating passing 100% of the time on first down, but there are a couple of reasons for this: Bray, and the full playbook should be open on 1st and 10, so you may as well use the thing. Both are critical, but while the fans will focus on north-south running, I'm hoping the coaches sprinkle in a bit of first-down passing.
10. Tennessee, your underneath zone coverage. Fortunately, the corollary of this (pressure on the QB and ensuing picks) worked out in our favor this week and there was plenty of secondary pursuit to make up for it, but there's no guarantee that's going to continue, and NC State's WR corps is pedestrian. I'm not sure how I feel about leaving that much in the way of gaps, and it's something we need to pay attention to down the road. I'm not sure that it's going to be a blueprint for success leaving the space between the hashes that open every week, but better that than the space between the hashes and past the safeties, I suppose. Then again, if you're gonna leave somewhere on the field open, that's the spot you want to leave.
11. On the other hand, I'm not sure the front seven can do that against better blockers. I'd love for them to prove me wrong in two weeks.
12. Honestly, for a first run, the D wasn't half bad. It took a little while to get up to game speed, but after the first quarter they only allowed three drives over 25 yards and came down with three picks (also, I've got to give it up to Marsalis Teague for getting on the board; kid needs the love). Granted, two of those three drives ended in TDs, but over eight drives, that isn't bad.
13. NC State began only one drive past their own 35 (1 TD). Tennessee began five drives past their own 35, but only scored on three of them (1 TD, 2 FG).
14. Georgia State should be a good opportunity to work on fundamentals, mostly north-south running and getting pattern-matching down at game speed. I'm not that concerned about Florida's passing offense at this point, but they should be able to identify blown coverage.
15. NC State had 80 plays from scrimmage, of which 48 were part of a third-down sequence. Then again, they also went for it on fourth down three times (so 51 plays) and they threw four picks, three of which weren't on fourth down, three of which mattered (sorry, Teague), two of which weren't on fourth down and mattered. So it isn't like their offense wasn't successful, but the defense did a good job.
16. We have a blueprint: high-variance offense, high-variance defense. There's enough raw skill there to prevent the Stupid Game, I think (early contenders for that: Troy, Vanderbilt, Mizzou, in that order), but if an upset is going to be sprung against Alabama, Georgia, or South Carolina, it's got to be high variance. The hope is that the floor is high enough to avoid letdowns.
17. I'd be remiss if I didn't note two things about my viewing experience: first, I screwed up and thought the game was at 8:30, so I missed the first part of the game. Second, I tuned in just in time to see the Prentiss Waggner INT (ensuing sequence: Zach Rogers TD, safety, Patterson end-around TD), so by the end of the first quarter, I was pretty sure this team was going 25-0 in 12 games. Yesterday, I also called UF's fumble against Bowling Green the play before it happened, so apparently I had some Week 1 Powers action going.
What'd I miss?