Game recap: UT 24 vs. Vanderbilt 10
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NASHVILLE - Turns out Tyler Bray isn't perfect.
Just his record is now.
The Tennessee quarterback saw his streak without an interception snapped, he didn't always see open receivers and there were times the worst defense in the conference made him look like a true freshman.
But even with a performance that didn't exactly build on his first two starts for the Vols, Bray's third still had the same result after he did just enough to pull out a 24-10 decision on Saturday night over Vanderbilt.
"Tyler struggled a little bit out there with his decisions and give Vanderbilt credit for that," UT coach Derek Dooley said. "But, hey, I knew this was going to be a tough game. We're not going to go out there and spray it around and light it up like everybody started thinking. Football doesn't work like that.
"Give the team a lot of credit, with all the mistakes we made . . . we won the game. We found a way to win, and that's what matters."
And if Bray runs his win streak to four next week against Kentucky, he and the Vols (5-6, 2-5 SEC) will both have a chance to make it five - perhaps right back in Nashville for the Music City Bowl.
But the UT offense will probably need better decision making than Bray had against the hapless Commodores, who flustered him at times during a 16-for-27, 232-yard outing that featured two touchdowns but a pair of interceptions, as well. In particular, Vanderbilt (2-9, 1-7) seemed to have success confusing him with shifts at every level and a variety of blitz packages, and without a consistent running game, Bray was largely on his own to manage an early lead and get UT through the second half without incident.
"This game, I don't know," Dooley said. "It's almost like I willed it to happen because all week I never felt good about our approach, especially offensively. Probably the worst week of practice we had on offense, not very good focus and it shows up in the mistakes.
"Penalties, turn the ball over, it was just a poor effort. But I don't want to take away from Vanderbilt, and I mean that. They did a great job mixing up their coverages, blitzing, dropping and we struggled. I knew this was going to be a tough game, give Vanderbilt a lot of credit because they brought it for 60 minutes. We really struggled, had a lot of opportunities to put the game away and we didn't capitalize."
UT took advantage of them early, jumping on the Commodores with impressive scoring strikes of 15 yards to Justin Hunter and 20 yards to Denarius Moore, looking exactly like the offense that rolled over Memphis and Ole Miss during Bray's first two starts.
But instead of building on that positive momentum, the Vols made bad decisions, threw into coverage, picked up a handful of offensive penalties and looked totally out of sync for most of the second half before Tauren Poole finished off Vanderbilt with a 28-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes.
"That wasn't easy," senior receiver Gerald Jones said. "The second half they made great adjustments and did a lot of movement with their defensive line and linebackers and even their (defensive backs).
"(Bray) made some mistakes, but don't expect the guy to be perfect. Every quarterback throws an interception. Yeah, he showed signs of youth, but then again he still made the plays that he normally makes. The guy is not going to be perfect, he's not Peyton Manning. He's going to make freshman mistakes sometimes and he's going to make bad decisions, it's just part of the game."
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.