When things are going well for any football team, the offense and defense are feeding off one another. That's what Tennessee fans saw front-and-center on Friday evening.
Trailing 7-6 in first quarter against North Carolina State, the Volunteers responded with a Prentiss Waggner interception, a 72-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bray to Zach Rogers, a sack and safety of Mike Glennon by linebacker Curt Maggitt, and a 67-yard TD run by Cordarrelle Patterson.
Just like that, the Wolfpack went from playing with confidence and an open eye on slaying a team from the all-powerful Southeastern Conference to a lump in the throat and trying to keep it within two scores.
The comfort of knowing a singular mistake isn't going to assure a loss is something Vol defenders are starting to realize.
"It takes a big weight off our shoulders," junior cornerback Eric Gordon said. "We don't have to be out there as much. They give us a break when we need it. I couldn't ask for more from the offense."
|Prentiss Waggner takes his interception Friday against North Carolina State upfield.|
"It's just the first game," junior wide receiver Justin Hunter said. "We've got to focus on the next game after that. The first game was real good, but like coach said, we've got to put it behind us and go onto the next one."
Thirty-three points should be enough to hang a W in the column each week. Regardless of UT's total, the defense has its weekly goals set up by coach Derek Dooley and coordinator Sal Sunseri.
"I think it makes defense way easier to play," said sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson, who noted the team has a goal of four takeaways a game. "Our goal as a defense is to keep a team under 13 points. We didn't meet our goal last game, but our offense is putting up points. We just need to get out there and keep playing hard and keep the other offense from scoring as much."
In the third quarter on Friday, the Vol offense grinded out a 14-play, 87-yard drive that ate 6 minutes, 26 seconds off the clock and was capped by an exhilarating 8-yard touchdown run by Rajion Neal. Not coincidentally, that was the one quarter Tennessee posted a goose egg on the Wolfpack side of the scoreboard.
"The offense is electrifying," Gordon said. "You've got to look out for those guys. It's pretty fun going against them and battling with those guys all fall camp and just every day in practice. They're a load to deal with."
Smacking pads on the gridiron in a quiet, unemotional fashion simply isn't realistic. Football is a game built upon emotion. Perhaps seeing your offensive teammates cause a fireworks show and posting one touchdown after another helps a defender play more loosely.
"Yeah it does, but as a defense, we don't want to be in any shootouts seeing which offense can score more points," senior cornerback Marsalis Teague said. "But, the fact that our offense can put up a lot of points, we look at ourselves as still trying to go out there and shut the other team out.
"We want to be a defense that's known for dominating people and trying to shut out opponents. We're not trying to think we can give up 20 points because the offense is going to put up 40 or nothing like that."
See more of what Gordon had to say following Tuesday's workout on The Hill in the video below:
Johnson also talked on camera with InsideTennessee. Check out the footage:
Watch as Dooley addressed the media following practice Tuesday afternoon: