Tyler Bray on Florida's secondary, Vol's offensive line
One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi.
On average, that's close to how long a college quarterback has before the pocket starts collapsing around him.
Panic with a quick release, and the receivers won't have any time to develop their routes. Wait too long, and the play ends behind the line of scrimmage.
Of course, not every play is the same, especially when an offensive line is protecting the quarterback like Tennessee's has with Tyler Bray. An extra Mississippi or two has gone a long way for Bray and the Vols through the first two games of the season.
"They're finally understanding what they need to do and the concept of what (offensive coordinator Jim Chaney) wants them to do," Bray said. "It's the difference of me checking it down or throwing it deep for a touchdown."
The latter has been a much more common occurrence through the first two games of Bray's sophomore season.
Bray torched the secondaries of Montana and Cincinnati for a combined 698 passing yards and seven touchdowns, totals that rank near the top in the nation and were previously unseen at such a young age in UT history. He's been doing it with the help of two dynamic playmaking receivers in Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers, but he's also had time on his side.
Bray was sacked three times in the season opener, but was never officially hurried outside those instances. Against Cincinnati, when he racked up 405 passing yards and completed all but seven of his pass attempts, Bray never touched the ground and was hurried just once.
There is, at least, a partial correlation between Bray's big numbers and the offensive line's low sack/hurry totals.
"When all five guys are blocking, the kid behind us is going to make plays," right tackle Ju'Wuan James said. "We have a lot of playmakers out there. We try to put it on our backs on passes.
"If we can leave him untouched then he's going to make a play."
The Vols' offensive line doesn't have to think hard to remember when it wasn't keeping the quarterback off his back.
Through the first eight games of 2010, the unit surrendered 31 sacks, as Matt Simms took the brunt of the heavy hits from some of the country's top defensive linemen. Since Bray took over as the team's starter, UT has surrendered just 13 sacks, less than two per game.
The competition has certainly dipped since that brutal stretch in which the Vols went 2-6. But there's more to it than just the players on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, UT's linemen said.
The Vols' front five, which now features one junior and four sophomores compared to the senior, sophomore and three true freshmen it played last year, isn't overwhelmed by the complexities of college defenses anymore.
"We had never seen it and we were young and our minds were just going crazy looking at the fronts," left tackle Dallas Thomas said. "We improved so much. All that goes to Coach (Harry) Hiestand and him drilling us and him going over fronts with us and understanding the defenses."
The Vols (2-0) will have a better gauge of how far they've truly come Saturday (TV: WVLT, 3:30 p.m.) at No. 16 Florida (2-0). The Gators boast what coach Derek Dooley called the "most talented defensive line in the nation" and will be rejuvenated by the return of sophomore Sharrif Floyd, who missed the first two games of the season because of an NCAA suspension.
"What's next," Dooley said, is "what matters," not what the Vols did against overmatched defenders from Montana and Cincinnati.
"It's going to be a big test for us," guard Alex Bullard said. "We just have to watch the film and get ready to play. We're extremely confident as an offensive line."
That confidence has been contagious to both the players behind them and the ones flanked to their sides.
Hunter and Rogers have proved to be valuable on short, quick routes, but they are at their best on plays that take longer to develop, such as double moves that often leave defenders grasping at their heels.
The more times Bray can say "Mississippi," the more likely it is the throw will be placed perfectly in their hands.
"He's very dangerous," Rogers said. "He's 6-(foot-)6 back there, he can see the whole field. When you've got him back there sitting with no one on him, he can pick you apart."