Gauging the season-opening 'W'

Curt Maggitt

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National television (if you get ESPNU). Captive audience (if you didn't tune into Boise State-Michigan State game). Neutral site contest versus a BCS school.

Tennessee had plenty to lose and even more to gain with its season-opening matchup against North Carolina State.

Fortunately for Big Orange Country, 16 points on three consecutive plays from scrimmage propelled the Vols to a 35-21 win and blew at least a portion of the black cloud away.

Both an elephant gun and a 9-millimeter make pops when fired. One louder than the other. The common thread is both fire just one bullet at a time. Once the smoke clears, there may still be a prey to slay.

The Vols are 1-0 but regardless of who that notch came against or in the matter in which it came, it isn't going to help against the next 11.

"To be honest, we don't really buy into all that," senior Prentiss Waggner said of carrying over momentum from Game 1. "We know what type of talent we have on this team. When you look at last year, we had a great start with the guys we have. So, the main thing this year was getting through training camp healthy, getting through that first game healthy and having a healthy season."

The talking heads circuit yielded a buffet of crow and slowed down some of the "hot seat" talk around coach Derek Dooley. In fact, Tennessee has a shot at breaking into a top 25 poll for the first time since being No. 18 before losing at UCLA in the 2008 season opener.

"In my opinion, I don't think it means a lot," Waggner told InsideTennessee. "I like being an underdog, creeping up on everybody. So, just taking it one game at a time, not worrying about top 25 polls and all that, and getting better every day."

What the fifth-year defensive back did say they got out of four quarters versus the Wolfpack was game experience against an NFL-bound quarterback — Mike Glennon. Then again, they saw plenty of that this summer.

"It means a lot," Waggner said. "We pretty much thank Tyler Bray for giving us a hard job through our training camp. We know if we can do a good job of containing Tyler Bray, that we could do a good job of containing Aaron Rodgers in our minds."

Prentiss Waggner and the Vol defense picked off the Wolfpack four times Friday night.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

The Tennessee defense generated a safety and four interceptions. It has now forced multiple turnovers in five of its last six games since the South Carolina game last year. Still, another starter thinks Friday's effort was simply something to build off of and the best is yet to come.

"I think a big part of it is the turnovers that we forced and the plays that we made," linebacker Curt Maggitt said. "I feel like we didn't live up to our expectation as a defense. I feel like the defense could have done a lot better in a lot of different ways. That's positive energy knowing that we won by that much, but we've still got a long way to go."

Along with snapping its three-game losing streak to ACC schools, the Vol coaches have better film to go by in gauging where they are at certain positions and can pinpoint some of what must be improved upon. Still, the third-year head man stresses that it's just one game.

"It's an early indicator, but it's really early," Dooley said. "Each week you find out more and more about your team. I feel like I have a little better handle of our guys this year than I ever have on what they can do, how they're going to perform and then trying to put them in a position to help you. So, I definitely feel like I have a better handle but we really don't know much about this team. We really don't know much about N.C. State.

"All these first games, a lot of things can happen. Sometimes you look great early and just fall flat on your face. Sometimes you look horrendous early and you end up winning 10 games. It's just how it is. So, it's good we had a win like that. Hopefully it will inspire a little confidence to keep working at it and understand that the fruits of our labor and why we've had that success because there was a lot of investment by this team in that game and in this season. So, we've just got to now stay the course."

Last season, Georgia opened up the season with a 35-21 loss to Boise State on national television in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. The following week, in spite of a 22-point fourth quarter, the Bulldogs fell at home to SEC Eastern Division foe South Carolina 45-42.

The chirping about coach Mark Richt's future in Athens reached a fever pitch. However, he rallied his troops and they won the next 10 games before losing to LSU in the SEC championship and Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.

In contrast, the Volunteers sandwiched a trio of victories around a loss in Gainesville to open things up before dropping four straight, finishing 5-7 and on the outside looking in at the bowl season.

Soybeans are Tennessee's No. 2-ranked cash crop. Moral of the story from a hot start to the college football season — it don't mean a hill of beans.

See what else Dooley had to say at Monday's press conference in the video below from InsideTennessee:

Waggner spoke on other topics Monday. See what the Louisiana native said in this footage:

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