The play wasn’t necessarily inevitable, but Tennessee always knew it was possible.
When it finally arrived, the Vols actually got one more down out of Bray in a 20-12 loss on Saturday night to Georgia. But the next one provided the first test for an injured thumb, and more official examinations on Sunday confirmed what a fluttering pass hinted at — a broken bone on Bray’s throwing hand that will knock him out for six weeks, putting Simms back in charge again.
“The bottom line is that Matt Simms is going to come in and execute the same passing game, the same situations that we were going to be able to do with Tyler Bray,” quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said during an appearance on The Derek Dooley Show. “Same thing with (freshman) Justin Worley, and that’s the way it’s going to be.
“Go out and execute, and that’s why we always give the second-string guy reps during practice and the third-string guy. We’re constantly working that offense so when he’s ready to go in, he’s ready to perform.”
Simms took advantage of his first chance to do it in a pressure situation in nearly a year, relieving Bray late in the game, completing a pair of clutch fourth-downs and punching in a touchdown with a sneak to draw the Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) within a score.
The senior ultimately didn’t have enough time to get UT any closer, but that won’t be an issue with the reins of the offense back in his hands as the program prepares for the two top-ranked teams in the country in LSU and Alabama over the next couple weeks.
After banging his hand into a Georgia helmet and suffering the fracture in his thumb, Bray will be limited to watching from the sideline during the heart of the SEC schedule for the Vols, giving them another significant injury to deal with after previously losing wide receiver Justin Hunter for the season to torn knee ligaments.
“I didn’t talk to Tyler at all about what happened after he came out,” tight end Mychal Rivera said after the game. “I’m really happy with Matt and what he came in and did. Ever since I’ve come here, Matt’s been a huge leader, Tyler’s been a huge leader and Matt’s been working hard behind Tyler all year.
“So, you know, whoever is the quarterback, I’m expecting great things from them.”
The position belongs to Simms now, and that doesn’t seem to be a complete surprise to the Vols.
Certainly, Dooley couldn’t have predicted when it might happen, or even if it actually would. But dating back as far as spring practice, the Vols coach has stressed that Simms would be needed at some point — and he was absolutely right.
“He took us down for a score, and that was something we didn’t do all game,” Dooley said on Saturday. “Of course the situation was different, but Matt’s a senior.
“I knew we were going to need him, and he knew we were going to need him.”
The Vols just didn’t know the exact details.
They came in on Sunday, and assuming Simms stays healthy, he figures to be in charge for most of the games left on the schedule.
“I’m really proud of Matt,” Hinshaw said. “All the way from this summer, getting demoted like had happened to him, it was a situation where he went in and was a leader. You see him every week trying to help Tyler, he’s also helping Justin Worley and I’m really proud of the role he’s taken.
“He also (got) ready to play every week, because that’s a situation that can happen that happened (Saturday). He put himself in a position where he made some good throws and led us down to score.”
Now the next play belongs to Simms, and somebody else will slide in and be one away behind him.