Tennessee Stat Book
Former NFL quarterback turned CBS commentator Gary Danielson couldn't take his eyes off Tyler Bray while watching Tennessee practice a year ago, even before the rifle-armed quarterback ascended to the starting position.
"I knew Matt Simms was going to be the starting quarterback,'' said Danielson, who will be calling his sixth UT-Florida game Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.). "But my eyes were constantly being drawn over to Tyler and just his raw ability."
Danielson followed up with Vols offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who proceeded to tell him why Bray wasn't ready to start last season's Florida game.
According to Danielson, Chaney said: "He (Bray) has no idea what he's doing yet. We gotta break him down a little bit, because he's so darn cocky, he thinks he knows it all.''
Danielson, who played quarterback in the NFL for 13 years for the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns, said that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"Part of that stuff of a stallion like Tyler, you don't take it all out of him, and you can still tell he has that wild side to him, and that's good,'' Danielson said on a Tuesday conference call. "He thinks he can fit the ball in anywhere. I have been touting him for a year and a half. He was my breakout/sleeper player of the SEC this year.''
Bray, on the heels of a record-breaking performance against Cincinnati on Saturday, is expected to face his stiffest test against the Gators at The Swamp.
"I think he's going to be a tough one for Florida to handle,'' Danielson said. "You can't tilt the field from one side to the other, they have receivers on both sides. I like their passing game chances.''
Bray, a gaudy 51-of-65 passing for 698 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions this season, eclipsed UT marks previously held by Peyton Manning by throwing for two TDs or more for an eighth consecutive game and completing 82.9 percent (34-of-41) of his passes in the 45-23 win over the Bearcats on Saturday.
Spencer Tillman, a CBS studio analyst who earned All-America honors as a running back at Oklahoma before an eight-year NFL career with the Houston Oilers and San Francisco 49ers, said he believes Bray can handle the Gators, too.
"I think he'll be able to take advantage of an underclass back end (secondary) at Florida,'' Tillman said. "I'm really going to give Tennessee an edge in this contest. Based on the multiple skill set they have at receiver and (Tauren) Poole at running back. They are more balanced and more prepared to come away with a victory than Florida.''
Danielson said both teams enter the contest with much to prove.
"They both have to prove they are worthy of mention as contenders for the SEC,'' he said. "They are clearly not in the upper echelon of teams at the beginning of the season.
"A year ago, all the star players were in blue. This year you can see the difference makers on the field on offense, although Florida has many, so does Tennessee, and it's the first time in my six years (broadcasting this game) I can say it's equal talent on offenses.''
Verne Lundquist, who will call the game beside Danielson, said it's an important game in the budding career of Tennessee second-year coach Derek Dooley.
"(Dooley) is going to become a really significant coach in the SEC; he has got credentials, he worked for Nick Saban's staff, he worked alongside (Florida coach Will) Muschamp, with Kirby Smart as well. I get the idea this (job) is not too big for him.
"This game is, 'OK, you've beaten Montana, you've beaten Cincinnati, you had the heartbreak against LSU, and timing issue and substitution issues last year,' this would be potentially one of the bigger wins of the year were they able to go into The Swamp and win it.''
Danielson said as big of a victory as it would be for Dooley, he believes it could be more important for Muschamp.
"This is a game (Florida) has to win ... to me, it's a must-win for Will Muschamp,'' Danielson said. " If you don't win this game, your October (schedule) could be an oh-fer: Alabama (Oct. 1), at LSU (Oct. 8), at Auburn (Oct. 15), Georgia (Oct. 29). It could get crazy there. Everyone wants to see progress, and when the previous coach has beaten Tennessee six times in a row, you don't want to lose at home.''
Follow Mike Griffith at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32