Vols QB Tyler Bray talks after Tuesday's practice
Tennessee Stat Book
The game had barely been over for an hour when Tyler Bray navigated his way through a crowded media room and up to the podium.
Battered by a strong pass rush, thrown out of sync at times without his favorite target and disappointed by a missed opportunity to help put his team on the national radar, the Tennessee quarterback still was able to show an improving ability to anticipate what’s coming his way.
Instead of reading coverages or feeling pressure in the pocket, two weeks ago on a Saturday at Florida the sophomore was sensing the line of questions that were about to come his way after just his second loss as a starting quarterback.
“They’re still going to say, ‘Well, he struggled against a good defense,’ ” Bray said.
For all the prolific numbers he’s posted in his young career, from the streak of touchdown passes that has eclipsed some guy named Peyton to the five 300-yard games already on his resume, Bray showed that he’s aware of what any potential critics might still be able to use to cast some doubt about him.
Not that it bothers Bray as he prepares to host Buffalo (1-3, 0-1 MAC) at Neyland Stadium today (TV: CSS, 12:30 p.m.), because little seems to change his public demeanor.
For one thing, Bray has no control over the teams on the schedule since he was inserted into the lineup. And for another, regardless of the perception of what he’s done in losses against Florida or North Carolina, there would be more pressing questions coming his way if Bray weren’t carving up the rest of the opponents he’s faced at UT (2-1, 0-1 SEC).
“All I would say is evaluate his numbers as a starter,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “I mean, he’s 6-2, the two losses have been against two pretty good teams, and data over time is what’s important to me. I mean, Tyler took over and we’ve played one top-25 team and we didn’t beat (Florida). So, he’s 0-1 against the top 25.
“I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate a guy this early in his career. He’s done some things that a lot of quarterbacks around the country couldn’t have done, that’s what I think. And he’s certainly inspired a lot of confidence in us, because otherwise — it’s not my nature to throw the ball 40 times, but with him at quarterback, it doesn’t bother you as much.”
In his last outing against the Gators, Bray was called on to do it 48 times despite losing his favorite target on the fourth play of the game when Justin Hunter tore ligaments in his knee, dealing with numerous snap issues and facing relentless defensive pressure.
He threw two costlyinterceptions, and he made no attempt to deflect the blame for them. But Bray also added 288 yards and three more touchdowns, though the stat he and the Vols really wanted slipped away from them.
“That all just comes with it,” sophomore receiver Da’Rick Rogers said. “If you play good against weaker teams and bad against better teams, then there is always going to be a certain criticism that comes up.
“But we always just tell him to play hard, because we know he can play — just play. He’s a playmaker.”
Bray has earned that reputation quickly, producing eye-catching numbers at a dizzying rate in his eight starts.
He’s thrown 28 touchdowns in his career. He’s completed at least 20 passes in four of his last five games.
Among active quarterbacks in the SEC, only South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia has more 300-yard performances in a career with six — and he’s a senior.
If the level of competition in how those numbers were accrued is an issue for anybody, Bray clearly wouldn’t share the concern.
“If we don’t beat the teams we should beat or how we should beat them, then there are problems,” Bray said. “Everyone has their opinions.
“I mean, I’m not going to stay up at night and lose sleep over it. I’ll be fine.”
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward