Game recap: UT vs South Carolina
Tennessee Stat Book
AP Top 25 College Football
"I thought (Matt) Simms was doing great," Bray said. "He was moving the ball downfield, making the right reads. I was fine with sticking with Simms as long as he was doing a good job."
Simms agreed - even after his second fumble of the game directly led to a South Carolina touchdown to open the second half.
"Nothing much I can do about getting hit in the back and the guy stripping the ball from me," Simms said. "That's one of the better defensive lines in the conference. Hey, if you get hit a lot the ball comes out.
"It wasn't like I dropped back and threw it back to the other team."
As Bray finished the game as Tennessee's quarterback, rallying from throwing an interception for a touchdown on his first pass attempt to lead two Vols scoring drives, Simms paced back and forth on the sidelines, visibly upset during the game and still fuming afterward.
"They were going to give (Bray) plenty of chances," Simms said. "That happens."
Coach Derek Dooley said he didn't want to discuss UT's turbulent quarterback situation heading into next week's game at Memphis. He did not, however, hesitate to explain first, why he pulled Simms in favor of Bray and, second, why he stuck with the true freshman after his costly mistake resulted in a Devin Taylor 24-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"Matt did some good things early but we held the ball twice and then gave up a turnover twice on a sack," Dooley said. "You just can't do that. Those are critical mistakes."
Simms' first fumble prevented the Vols from scoring seven points and eventually led to a Marcus Lattimore 1-yard touchdown run. The second resulted in a quick seven for South Carolina to start the second half, snapping a 10-10 halftime tie within the first three minutes.
On third-and-goal from the 12-yard line midway through the second quarter, Simms, hampered a bit by a sore left knee, stood in the pocket and surveyed his options. By the time Simms opted to throw it away, South Carolina's Cliff Matthews brought him down from his blindside, popping the ball loose into the hands of Taylor.
Simms was brought down in nearly exact fashion two plays into the second half, and Dooley had seen enough.
"We can't put the ball on the ground when we get hit," Dooley said. "Couple of bad events. We have to learn from it, grow from it and move on."
Dooley just didn't move in a new direction after Bray's interception, the result of South Carolina's defense dropping Taylor, a defensive end, back into coverage. It was something Bray had never seen before, Dooley said, and "I didn't want to beat him up too bad over that one play."
After Spencer Lanning's extra point put the Gamecocks up 24-10, Bray, shortly after he learned he would be returning to the field, gathered his wide receivers and running backs together on the sideline.
"I said 'Guys don't worry about it,' " Bray recalled. " 'It's my fault, we'll move on from here and let's put a drive together.' "
After a Chad Cunningham fake punt run breathed new life into a stifled Vols' drive, Bray threw his best pass in a Vol uniform to date, hitting Denarius Moore in stride for a 30-yard touchdown pass. On the following offensive possession, Bray escaped the pocket and found Moore wide open for a 62-yard completion. He hit Gerald Jones with a strike for a 16-yard touchdown pass one play later to tie the score, 24-24.
Bray's success, and UT's as a whole, hit the skids thereafter, as he finished 9-of-15 for 159 yards.
"I went out there and did my best," Bray said. "Whatever they decide is their decision."
Simms, who finished 10-of-13 for 153 yards, wasn't as politically correct.
"I wish I could say that I'm definitely the starting quarterback," Simms said. "It's unfortunate they took me out. I felt like I played really well. I feel like I could have made all those throws because we had guys wide open down the middle of the field.
"I feel like I'm a good enough quarterback to make those plays and I'm just still upset that I got taken out like that."