Vols, Wolfpack gearing up for showdown

Ben Cook

August 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm.

NC State defensive back David Amerson is a ball-hawking corner Vols QB Tyler Bray must pay attention to. (Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE)

The center of the college football world for the SEC will be the Georgia Dome in Atlanta when Auburn and Tennessee open their seasons against opponents from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

On Friday night, Tennessee will take on NC State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. On Saturday, it will be Auburn against Clemson. Although neither team is expected to be key players in the SEC division races this season, a win for the Tigers or Vols could be a shot in the arm for both teams confidence.

Although the SEC has had the upper hand in the SEC vs. ACC rivalry in the Kickoff Classic in the past, this appears to be the ACC’s best chances to break the SEC stranglehold. NC State was 8-5 last season, as opposed to Tennessee’s 5-7, while Clemson finished 10-4 and won the ACC. Auburn ended last season 8-5 and fourth place finish in the SEC West.

The NC State–Tennessee game is an intriguing matchup.

There is the subplot of Tennessee fans’ unhappiness with the way the Derek Dooley era has gone. The Vols’ coach could use a win to get this critical season off to a good start or else he will hear the howls of the wolves even louder than he already has.

There is also the matchup of NC State junior cornerback David Amerson against the passing of Tennessee’s Tyler Bray.

“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.

“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.”

Amerson set an ACC record with 13 interceptions last season and he has his sights set not only on Bray, but on Tennessee wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. The two receivers are looking forward to the challenge.

“I am ready to be out there as soon as possible,” said Patterson. “When game day gets here we will see what happens. I don’t think I ever get too amped up. I’ll just be ready to play.”

Patterson’s importance to the UT offense got a boost when Da’Rick Rogers was dismissed from the team last week.

“It is very serious, you can’t let opportunities like that go to waste,” he said. “You have to go in, do what you have to do and stay focused. There isn’t any pressure, but I think it is a good opportunity for me, even though (Rogers) is gone. We miss him out here, but we have to move on.”

“I am just saying I am going to be happy when they call my name and I go back out on the field,” said Hunter, who was injured against Florida and lost for the rest of the 2011 season. “Sitting on the sideline was really hard. Nervous? Not really. It is gonna be cool. After the first play I know I’ll be straight.”

Dooley and the Vols know they will have their hands full with the Wolfpack offense as well.

“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 (of your passes), 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.”

“We have a team, or offense, that’s been together for three years now,” said Bray. “Defensively, they’re putting in new wrinkles with Coach (Sal) Sunseri’s new defense, but we’re going be good.”

Of course it helps if Bray can stay healthy and on the field, something he has not been able to do yet.

“Just make it through the season,” Bray said about his personal goals for the season. “I haven’t done that since I’ve been here, so if I just make it through the season I think I’ll be good.”