Matt Simms is getting a second chance to run the Tennessee offense.
He’s also getting another crack at the team he most wanted to face again.
The circumstances surrounding the senior’s return to the starting lineup might not be ideal, with Simms suddenly thrust back into the lineup thanks to Tyler Bray’s broken thumb and with a top-ranked opponent waiting on deck for the Vols at Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.). But Simms made clear there’s nobody he’d rather be playing than No. 1 LSU, even without much time to ease back into a first-team role.
“I did an interview with someone in the summer and they asked me who was the one team I would love to go against,” Simms said after practice on Tuesday morning. “I said LSU, and I got what I wished for.
“I mean, I think everyone kind of realizes that this isn’t my first rodeo. I played in a lot of big games last year, and obviously I’m not afraid to get hit. I’m just looking forward to it, looking forward to the experience. It’s a tough position for all of us, and we’ve just got to focus and win our first SEC game.”
Simms nearly produced a big one on the road against the Tigers (6-0, 3-0 SEC) last year before some late-game theatrics on defense led to a heartbreaking loss for the Vols (3-2, 0-2). A couple weeks after that, Simms also lost his job with Bray relieving him and leading UT to four consecutive wins and a bowl bid down the stretch.
But the memory of the near-miss with Simms at the helm has seemingly been enough to ease the sting of seeing Bray in a cast with a sling on his right arm as he starts a rehab process that could take six weeks. And while his numbers weren’t all that eye-catching at Tiger Stadium, his 12-of-23 passing effort for 121 yards with a 3-yard touchdown on the ground were enough to put UT in position for a major upset.
“Simms is a great quarterback, and last year LSU was ranked high and he led us down there and we beat up on them pretty bad right up until the end of the game,” left guard Alex Bullard said. “So, we have confidence in Matt coming in. We can definitely win with Matt, and we can beat LSU with Matt playing quarterback.”
Without the substitution problems or with one or two less seconds on the clock, the Vols might have definitive proof of that already.
Either way, the close call against the Tigers, the toughness Simms showed while facing relentless pressure and getting sacked five times, and the way he’s handled himself since losing his job to Bray all earned him the respect of his teammates. And now he’s officially back to try to lead them to a significant victory.
“You know, it was a good first day, just getting accustomed to being the starter again — just in time for the No. 1 team in the country,” Simms said. “I’m excited about that and looking forward to it.
“It definitely helps to know that we did perform well down there. But then again, there were a lot of things that we could have done a lot better. This year, we have to refocus our energy and make sure that we concentrate on the little details to beat a team like this.”
The Vols went back to work cleaning them up with Simms officially in charge — for the second time.