AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson already handles pressure with poise. Imagine how much better he will be once he has a better understanding of all his pass routes.
Patterson, a transfer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, delivered one of the best debut performances of any major-college newcomer in the first week of the season. He scored on a 41-yard catch and a 67-yard run in the first quarter of Tennessee's 35-21 victory over North Carolina State on Friday at the Georgia Dome.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said afterward that he wasn't even sure Patterson ran the right route on the 41-yard touchdown in which he beat All-America cornerback David Amerson. Patterson acknowledged Monday that he still must improve his route running and his reading of coverages.
"There are mistakes I see that I can fix," Patterson said.
He already has fixed one of Tennessee's biggest dilemmas.
Tennessee needed someone to replace all-Southeastern Conference receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who transferred to Tennessee Tech last week after getting indefinitely suspended. Patterson replaced Rogers in the starting lineup and immediately backed up the acclaim that accompanied his arrival on campus. His 165 all-purpose yards against North Carolina State didn't surprise the people who'd seen him before.
"I know the SEC is the SEC, but he's that type of guy," Hutchinson coach Rion Rhoades said. "He's very gifted. He loves to play the game. I really wasn't surprised with him hitting the ground running right off the bat."
Patterson set Hutchinson career records in receptions (113), receiving yards (1,832), touchdown catches (24), total touchdowns (36), points (216) and all-purpose yards (3,379). Recruiting services ranked him among the top junior-college prospects in the nation.
His preseason performance added to the sense of optimism that he could contribute immediately, but the boom-and-bust nature of junior-college recruits invited skepticism.
Kenny O'Neal had a similar rating in 2007 when he signed with Tennessee out of City College of San Francisco. O'Neal caught only two passes for 59 yards before encountering academic problems and transferring.
Patterson already has shown he's no O'Neal.
Now he has a chance to develop into the next great pass-catcher at a school once known as Wide Receiver U. Six Tennessee wide receivers were chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft from 1982-91, but Robert Meachem is the only All-America wideout the Vols have produced over the last 20 seasons. Patterson and junior Justin Hunter give the Vols two receivers with star potential.
Patterson isn't making big predictions.
He didn't spend the entire weekend reading about the North Carolina State game and instead focused on Saturday's home opener with Georgia State, his first performance at 102,455-seat Neyland Stadium. Patterson generally played in front of fewer than 5,000 fans at Hutchinson.
"I read a little bit, but I try not to pay too much attention so I wouldn't get too happy about everything," Patterson said. "I'm just getting ready for this week."
The only evidence of ego came when he was asked if his big game caught him off guard.
"Not really," Patterson said. "I know what I can do and what I can't do. It wasn't a big surprise for me."
Tennessee's coaches don't believe Patterson will get complacent.
"I hope he just keeps his level of humility that he's shown," Dooley said. "I've told him that. I was really impressed. He's not walking around like the big shot. There's going to be (a game), it could be this week, where he doesn't get anything. It's recognizing the game isn't easy. There are a lot of guys out there who've had a big first game. If he just stays the course on what he's doing, he has a chance to be really good obviously."
Patterson's comments to reporters backed up Dooley's statement.
Rather than gloating, Patterson pointed out the flaws in his game. He realizes that he didn't catch a single pass after halftime. He still has room to improve.
"I think I'm almost where I want to be," Patterson said, "but I'm not quite there."
Notes: Tennessee's depth chart lists Rajion Neal, Devrin Young and Marlin Lane as co-starters at tailback. Neal started the North Carolina State game and rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Lane, the third-team tailback last week, ran for a team-high 75 yards on nine carries. ... Senior linebacker Herman Lathers is listed as probable for Saturday after missing much of the North Carolina State game with a shoulder injury. Lathers sat out the entire 2011 season with a fractured left ankle. ... Junior guard Zach Fulton was named the SEC offensive lineman of the week.
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