Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley just wanted to see some progress from his Volunteers in the past few games. In that case, they delivered by showing improvement in losses to Alabama and South Carolina.
The problem is, the Vols didn't get a win in the month of October and now enter the final month of the season without a Southeastern Conference victory.
"As long as we continue the upward trend, we'll be OK," Dooley said Sunday.
Tennessee will be favored for the first time since facing UAB on Sept. 25 when the Vols travel on Saturday to Memphis (1-7), a team that's been outscored by its last four opponents 201-43. The Vols (2-6) also likely won't face another ranked team with Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Kentucky left on the schedule.
November has traditionally been the Vols' most successful month, and they've done especially well against the four teams they'll face this November. In the past three decades, Tennessee holds a combined 83-7 record against their four remaining opponents, including a 25-game winning streak against the Wildcats.
Dooley cautions against using that history as any indication of how the Vols will do this month, though.
"Historically Tennessee's been great in November, but historically they've also been pretty good before November," he said.
Tennessee wrapped up October with another player arrest. Freshman Jacques Smith turned himself into police on Sunday on a charge of assault with bodily injury and was released on a $2,000 bond.
Spokesman Jimmy Stanton said Smith argued with another student about a woman late Saturday night, and other Vols players stepped in to "diffuse the situation." Smith and the student left the scene of the altercation, but the student later decided to press charges.
Dooley said he felt Smith used bad judgment and that he plans to handle Smith's punishment internally. He did praise the other players for stepping in to "do the right thing."
The coach also said he feels Smith's arrest isn't indicative of a problem with Tennessee's culture off the field, which was his concern after a July bar brawl involving nearly a dozen players.
"I think for the most part we've seen a tremendous amount of progress in how our players are conducting themselves off the field," Dooley said. "Coincidentally, I got word from the airlines yesterday that this was the most respectful, most behaved football team that they'd ever transported."
Tennessee's progress has been evident on the field, too.
The Vols rallied from a 14-point deficit against the Gamecocks on a pair of touchdown passes from backup quarterback Tyler Bray to tie the game at 24 points early in the fourth quarter before a 70-yard touchdown pass from Stephen Garcia to Alshon Jeffery sealed the win for South Carolina. It was the most competitive they'd been in the fourth quarter since their 16-14 loss at LSU on Oct. 2.
Bray and starter Matt Simms were a combined 19-for-28, and Denarius Moore caught six passes for 228 yards, the best receiving performance in the Football Bowl Subdivision this season. The Vols scored on three of their four trips to the red zone and picked up a 21 first downs, the most they've had against their FBS opponents this year.
Bray showed improvement in his fourth game, hitting Moore on a 30-yard touchdown pass and Gerald Jones on 17-yard scoring strike. Bray was 9-for-15 for 159 yard and had an interception in addition to the two TD passes.
"We had told them from the start, when we first started losing, not to lose our heads, to keep our heads in the game, and that's what we did," Moore said. "As a result it got us fired up, and we wanted to play some more."
Dooley wouldn't address on Sunday whether Bray had earned a chance to start ahead of Simms, who was 10-for-13 for 153 yards and a touchdown. Dooley said he would address the quarterback situation on Monday after talking with the pair.
"(Bray's) been getting a little bit better each week. He's certainly not where we need him to be right now," Dooley said. "I need to sit down and talk to the players like we do each week, and I haven't had that chance."