KNOXVILLE -- For the first time since 2008, Tennessee football has once again garnered some national recognition.
The Vols are ranked No. 23 in the nation in this week's Associated Press poll, the first time they've appeared in the rankings since 2008. In addition, ESPN's College Gameday will be in town on Saturday leading up to the night game between the Vols and the Florida Gators, set for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee methodically wiped out Georgia State Saturday night 51-13, a game which went pretty well as expected as the Vols were going against a woefully outmanned bunch. Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, it's time for some "big boy" football as the Vols will try to beat Florida for the first time since 2004.
There were obviously plenty of good things to smile about in the romp over the Panthers Saturday. Quarterback Tyler Bray was simply sensational, hitting 18-of-20 passes for 310 yds. and four touchdowns. He hit 13 straight passes, third best in school history behind Tee Martin (24) and Erik Ainge (15), before retiring to the sidelines with just under five minutes left in the third quarter.
Justin Hunter caught three of the touchdown passes, tying the UT record for TD receptions in a game. He had eight catches for 146 yds., making it look ridiculously easy at times.
The other big-time receiver, Cordarelle Patterson, amassed 195 all-purpose yards, 106 of them in kickoff returns, 71 yds. receiving and an 18-yd. rush.
Concerns? You bet.
The UT running game is still not good enough to "pound the rock," as a former UT coach so often was quoted as saying. At times, the backs showed spark, but it was inconsistent, and against the upcoming SEC defenses it could be extremely hard to expect Bray to bail out the offense with regularity.
"It's the same old deal," Coach Derek Dooley said. "You know, sometimes we look good running the ball and sometimes we don't look good at all. It's third and one and fourth and one or two. Short yardage is an issue. It's shown up twice now in two games. We're going to have to keep searching on what we do. Maybe we should just spread it out and throw it."
Another concern is the kicking game. The Vols missed an extra point for the second week in a row, and Georgia State's kicking game was, on this day, better than UT's.
"He (Michael Palardy) missed a PAT and missed a field goal," Dooley said. "We need to make those. I've got to see what the issues were. ... He made his next kick, but obviously that's a concern going forward. We'll go see what the issue was."
In addition to the three TD passes to Hunter, tight end Mychal Rivera caught one and has established himself as a real threat to go along with Hunter and Patterson.
"I've told you guys that Tyler is the best quarterback in the country," Rivera, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, said. "That's how I feel."
Rajion Neal scored two rushing touchdowns from his tailback spot, and the Vols amassed over 500 yards in offense for the second game in a row, the first time since the 2000 season that has happened.
The Panthers were in the game down 14-6 late in the second quarter, but Hunter hauled in a pair of touchdown passes in the final 4:30 of the half to put the game out of reach. UT's starters were pulled in the third quarter and new faces were in the game at just about every position.
Georgia State Coach Bill Curry, who faced the Vols in the past as a coach at Kentucky and Alabama, was complimentary of his opponent, but was particularly proud that his players never gave up. The few fans that were inside the stadium in the closing seconds booed when Curry burned his final two time outs in the final seconds.
"The fans didn't understand; they booed when we used our timeout," Curry said. "We're going to use everything we have. We won't ever let it go. If we get possession with four seconds left, we're going to try to score another one because that's what we are. We will never allow an asset to go unused. We will never leave a timeout on the board when it would give us another shot. So if the fans are late getting to their cocktail party, I apologize to them, but we'll do it every time--every single time-- to teach a lesson to the guys that you never give up."
TENNESSEE 51, GEORGIA STATE 13
Georgia State 3 3 0 7 -- 13
Tennessee 7 21 13 10 -- 51
Tenn--Neal 1 run (Palardy kick), 10:46.
--FG Benvenuto 32, 4:06.
Tenn--Rivera 19 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 10:58.
--FG Benvenuto 30, 5:37.
Tenn--Hunter 25 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 4:11.
Tenn--Hunter 11 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 1:29.
Tenn--Neal 5 run (kick failed), 11:11.
Tenn--Hunter 19 pass from Bray (Palardy kick), 8:02.
Tenn--FG Brodus 25, 8:38.
Tenn--Watson 2 run (Brodus kick), 5:47.
--McLane 12 run (Benvenuto kick), :58.
First downs 22 27
Rushes-yards 41-87 43-184
Passing 176 374
Comp-Att-Int 18-41-1 22-28-1
Return Yards 0 50
Punts-Avg. 8-44.8 2-33.0
Fumbles-Lost 7-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 4-35 6-57
Time of Possession 34:18 25:42
RUSHING--Georgia State, Russell 15-68, Watson 6-18, Wilson 2-17, Lee 2-11, Sweeting 1-7, Evans 3-3, Ogbuehi 1-(minus 1), Team 1-(minus 15), McLane 10-(minus 21). Tennessee, Neal 13-65, Young 8-46, Lane 8-31, Watson 7-27, Patterson 1-18, Bray 1-4, J.King 1-0, Team 4-(minus 7).
PASSING--Georgia State, McLane 18-41-1-176. Tennessee, Bray 18-20-0-310, Worley 4-8-1-64.
RECEIVING--Georgia State, Wilson 8-74, Giles 2-34, Russell 2-33, Minor 2-18, Blair 1-7, Lee 1-5, Sweeting 1-3, Ogbuehi 1-2. Tennessee, Hunter 8-146, Rivera 4-70, Patterson 3-71, Carter 2-35, Young 2-11, Watson 1-17, Lane 1-12, Neal 1-12.