Game-day recap: Tennessee-Ole Miss
Tennessee Stat Book
The seemingly effortless comfort Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray has displayed with his wide receivers is by no means an overnight success story.
The trust between the freshman and his veteran-heavy wide receiver corps, senior wide receiver Gerald Jones said, has existed ever since their voluntary pitch-and-catch sessions under the blazing July sun.
"We saw the throws he was making," Jones said. "And then when he makes them in the game, when he first got a chance to do it, we were just like 'Hey, you do it in practice, you do it in the game.
" 'We trust you.' "
For Bray, it's clear he has UT's receivers' trust.
It's a reciprocal relationship, sprouted long before his first career start last week at Memphis, that was on display throughout the Vols' dominating 52-14 victory Saturday over Ole Miss at Neyland Stadium.
"I have faith that they're going to go up and grab the ball," Bray said after completing 18 of 34 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns, becoming the first quarterback in UT history to clear 300 passing yards in his first two career starts.
"We have a height advantage over most teams we play, so that helps."
That certainly helped against an undersized and overmatched Ole Miss secondary Saturday, but Bray showed little hesitation throwing passes into tight coverage that forced his receivers to make a play on the ball.
Freshman Justin Hunter's second touchdown catch served as the best example. Bray saw one defensive back on Hunter's hip and another defensive back converging on the play, but saw a small amount of space where only the 6-foot-5 Hunter could bring it down.
All Hunter had to do was catch it.
"He knows where to put the ball to give them a chance," coach Derek Dooley said. "I think they know the ball's going to come and there's an expectation they're going to come down with it. That's how good throwing teams get that way."
There were plenty of chances for UT's other receivers to thrive, too, and Bray had no problem getting everyone involved for a second consecutive week.
Denarius Moore, Jones and tight end Luke Stocker all caught four passes, while Hunter snagged three for a game-high 114 yards. All four, plus backup tight end Mychal Rivera, caught at least one pass for 20 yards or longer, the second consecutive week that's occurred.
"He has confidence in his wide receivers," said Moore, who has 419 receiving yards over the previous three games and notched his third consecutive game with a touchdown by catching a 17-yard, first-quarter pass in tight coverage.
"He knows that he has some good wide receivers on the perimeter and he just gives it to us."
Though Matt Simms was considered UT's starter long before two-a-days, Bray received a number of repetitions with the first-team offense, a policy offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said earlier in the month that is unique to a Dooley-coached team.
Bray said that provided an essential head start. Now he knows what some of his receivers plan to do before they even do it.
"It helps knowing what they're going to do on a route," Bray said. "Gerald has a thing where I know if he's running an out or a slant just by how he moves his head. I can't really explain it, it's just something that happens."
Even on the first play of the game, when he intended to hit Jones on a crossing route, Hunter was looking for the ball to get in his hands. That was Hunter's explanation for why, instead of trying to bat down Bray's deflected pass, he was looking to catch it the entire time.
Eighty yards later, Hunter was in the end zone on a conceivably lucky play that may have just been the product of expedited chemistry between Bray and his receivers.
"It changes what you do mentally and physically," Moore said. "In our head we know we might have a chance to get the ball and physically we want to have our bodies in the right position to make the play.
"I really am amazed, just with him being a true freshman. I've never seen a true freshman do that before."
Andrew Gribble covers Tennessee football and recruiting. He may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble/