"I think at halftime they felt good," offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said.
That might seem a little surprising, since the Vols managed just 14 points in the first 30 minutes and got the last seven of those shortly before the break. But Cutcliffe says it was preparation, not production, that gave the Vols their collective ego boost.
"They knew what to do, knew they were prepared," the coordinator recalled. "They knew they could make plays if they put themselves in the right position."
Since the Vols moved the ball successfully in the first half, Cutcliffe made few adjustments during the intermission. The Vols then went out and scored touchdowns on three of their first six plays of the third quarter.
"I think we had a really good halftime," Cutcliffe said. "Everybody understood what we wanted to try and do in the third quarter. I think that was indicative of what happened in the third quarter."
Since joining the staff last December, the new coordinator has eliminated some things and simplified other things in UT's offensive repertoire. He did this thinking that fewer plays and fewer alignments would lead to fewer mental mishaps. Sure enough, the Vols were relatively mistake-free on Saturday evening.
"Their ability to see what happened in the first half made a big difference," Cutcliffe said. "I don't think the third quarter was an accident. I thought that was a tribute to the players and their focus."
Although the Vols amassed more than 500 total yards in their 35-18 Game 1 victory, Cutcliffe said his troops still have a long way to go.
"Nothing is ever as good as it seems, nothing is ever as bad as it seems," he said. "We have nothing to be complacent about. We've obviously got the bulk of our schedule ahead of us and the best defenses we're going to play we'll see week after week after week."