Tennessee running back Quenshaun Watson (25) is lifted high by offensive linesman Alan Posey (67) after scoring for the Volunteers in the second half as the University of Tennessee played Georgia State in Neyland Stadium on Sept. 8, 2012.
Larry McCormack / The Tennessean
Commentary by David Climer
KNOXVILLE - A victory over a non-conference opponent at a neutral site?
A blowout of a play-for-pay cupcake at home?
Now let the real games begin.
It's time for Tennessee's Vols to see just how far they have rebounded in Derek Dooley's third season as coach. Florida is up next.
And while these might not be the Gators of Steve Spurrier or Urban Meyer, it's still Florida, UT's nemesis and an opponent that serves as the Vols' annual September barometer.
After a 51-13 assault of overmatched Georgia State on Saturday, it didn't take long for Tennessee's attention to turn to Florida, a team UT has not beaten since 2004.
Some Vols downplayed what lies ahead.
"We're going to do what we always do and take it as the next game," said offensive guard Dallas Thomas, a fifth-year senior.
Some Vols don't know what to expect.
"It's new to me. I'm sure it'll be exciting," said wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, a junior-college transfer whose UT career encompasses all of two games thus far.
Some Vols took it all in stride.
"They got a good win and we've got a couple of good wins. It's going to be a good ballgame," junior quarterback Tyler Bray said.
But other Vols know that the UT-Florida game takes on a life of its own.
"It would mean a lot for my senior class compared to all the other classes," said linebacker Willie Bohannon, a fifth-year Vol. "It would set us apart just to come out with a win against Florida."
Indeed, it is a rivalry that has long since captured the imagination of UT's coaches, players and fans, in part because of the frustration that often comes with playing Florida. Since the teams started meeting annually in 1990, UT has won only six times.
While Florida held up its end of the bargain by rallying from a 17-10 halftime deficit to win at Texas A&M 20-17 on Saturday, the Vols overwhelmed Georgia State, a program that is in just its third season of intercollegiate football and a 33-6 loser to South Carolina State in its season-opener.
The Vols got what they paid for: a tune-up against a willing victim that came to Neyland Stadium for a $500,000 payday.
"It's a funny dynamic because I looked up there and I thought, 'Why would I have affection for this place?' " said Georgia State Coach Bill Curry, who brought his fourth different program to town.
The visiting Panthers had no answers for UT's passing game. Bray threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to Justin Hunter, who found only token resistance from Georgia State's secondary.
"They were giving him free access," Dooley said. "It's not going to be like that next week when they put their hands on him."
There were times Bray stood in the pocket and motioned for his receivers to adjust patterns before delivering passes. He and Hunter were particularly in sync, with touchdown plays of 25, 11 and 19 yards to show for it.
"Tyler was throwing the ball all around. Everybody was having fun," said Hunter, who caught eight balls for 146 yards.
It was easier to count Bray's incompletions than his completions. He overthrew tight end Mychal Rivera on the first play from scrimmage and missed a deep route to Cordarrelle Patterson late in the first quarter.
All told, Bray was 18-of-20. He had completed 13 straight passes when he was lifted for Justin Worley at the 4:45 mark of the third quarter.
"I've told you guys, Tyler is the best quarterback in the nation," said Rivera, who caught a 19-yard touchdown pass.
Informed of Rivera's comment, Bray smiled and said:
"I just think Mike's sucking up. He wants more passes."
As easy as UT's victory was on Saturday, there is plenty of room for improvement. The Vols offense continues to struggle in short-yardage situations, the defense had intermittent lapses and the kicking game is a work in progress, particularly on placements.
Michael Palardy missed a 39-yard field goal attempt and also missed an extra-point kick for the second straight game. Misses like that don't really matter against Georgia State but they could be disastrous against Florida and the SEC opponents that follow.
Dooley replaced Palardy with walk-on Derrick Brodus for the extra point after UT's last touchdown.
"Obviously, that's a concern going forward," Dooley said.
He's right. When Tennessee is getting ready to play Florida, there always seem to be areas of concern.
Even after a 51-13 blowout.