KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT) – The University of Tennessee football team moved practice indoors and cranked up the noise Monday as they tried its best to replicate the environment it will face in Friday's season-opener against NC State in the Georgia Dome.
In addition to preparing for the exciting atmosphere, Tennessee has upped the intensity in practice because it also knows it will be going up against a talented team when it hits the gridiron for the first time this season.
After getting the day off to rest and recover on Saturday, the Vols began installing the game plan for the Wolfpack on Sunday before their indoor practice on Monday. With just three days of work left, UT will spend the rest of its time fine-tuning everything before heading south on I-75.
"We just finished two tough practices to get them back into it and we'll try to polish it up these next couple of days before we head down to Atlanta," UT head coach Derek Dooley said.
Friday's game will end nearly nine months of anticipation for the Vols as they have looked forward to the opportunity to prove themselves on the field since the moment last season ended.
"We have been watching film on [NC State] all offseason," junior offensive lineman Ja'Wuan James said. "It felt good to get out here and work against the scout team, but they are going to give us a lot of blitzes and we just have to be ready."
Front and center on everyone's mind going into Friday's contest is NC State cornerback David Amerson, who led the NCAA with 13 interceptions a year ago.
"He is long, athletic and instinctive with a play-making attitude," Dooley said. "He's as good as there is out there at corner. It starts with height, weight, speed and position skills, which he obviously has, but there is also an intangible dynamic play-making attitude that usually the great ones in the back-end have, and he's got it."
Easily the most intriguing match-up of the contest will pit Amerson against Tennessee wideout Justin Hunter who returns to the field for the first time since tearing his ACL against Florida last year.
Based on how NC State has utilized Amerson in the past, however, Dooley isn't quite sure how often the two will get to battle it out on Friday, however.
"He's been playing to the field, but I'm sure they will adjust their game plan accordingly," Dooley said. "He's not the only guy back there, so I'm sure they aren't fearing any of our guys. Those two safeties [seniors Brandon Bishop and Earl Wolff| have a lot of experience and a lot of production. I don't expect them to change what they do because of us."
It isn't just the defense that the Vols are worried about though as the Wolfpack offense isn't exactly devoid of talent either.
"They have an experienced offensive line and an extremely productive, tall, accurate quarterback," Dooley said. "When you throw for 3,000 yards and complete 63 percent, it is pretty good. Then they have some special teams guys, their receiver and their runner, who can really hurt you. I'm sure they feel very confident going into this game and they should. They have all their guys back up front, have the quarterback back and they have some weapons on the perimeter."
Another factor the Vols will have to overcome is the team's recent history in the so-called "Dome of Doom." After winning its first two games in the Georgia Dome – the 1997 SEC Championship against Auburn (30-29) and the 1998 SEC Championship game against Mississippi State (24-14) – UT has lost its last six contests in Atlanta.
Although that may be a well-known point of contention among the Vol fan base, the current players haven't even let it cross their minds as they prepare for NC State.
"I wasn't even aware of that," James said. "We aren't thinking about the past. We are just trying to focus on this game and getting the outcome we want."
Hunter, Patterson ready to step up following injuries, Rogers' departure
Tennessee starting wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson were peppered with the same question over and over on Monday.
"Are you 100 percent?"
Hunter, because of return from the ACL tear. Patterson, because of the shoulder injury which occurred during the first week of training camp.
Their answer was the same.
The wide receiver tandem will play together for the first time when the Vols head to the Georgia Dome for a meeting with NC State Friday. It will be their first time ever in the Dome, but they are both ready, even if there are some nerves.
"I think I'll get nervous," said Patterson. "I try not to think about it, but I have been getting nervous this week just thinking about it. I haven't played in anything like this. I try not to let it cross my mind.
"There isn't a lot of pressure. It is just like another game, but it is a big week. I haven't played since the Florida game. Coming out there in a game like this I'm going to get the jitters out of me in the first quarter."
The duo will go up against of the toughest secondaries in the NCAA who, in 2011, combined for 27 interceptions, including 13 alone by potential first round draft pick David Amerson.
Both athletes know they have a tough test ahead of them, but are fully prepared.
"I am going to go out there like it's a real big game and focus hard," said Hunter. "We are up against a really talented secondary. All seniors, first rounders. Last year they had a lot of good balls, but some of them just gave them to them. We just can't make any mistakes out there."
"I have the playbook down," said Patterson. "I have everything down, it is just the fast pace and the tempo of getting everything set. I have just tried to take a lot of time to study and learn their coverage and I think they are a pretty good defense, but I feel like if we go out there and execute what we have been practicing we will have a good shot at it."
The pair also agrees that Friday can't come soon enough.
"I am ready to be out there as soon as possible," said Patterson. "When gameday gets here we will see what happens. I don't think I ever get too amped up. I just be ready to play."
"I am just saying," added Hunter, "I am going to be happy when they call my name and I go back out on the field because sitting on the sideline was really hard. Nervous? Not really. It is going to be cool. After the first play I know I'll be straight."
Information provided by UT Sports Media Relations and UTSports.com.
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