Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray was out of breath as he fielded questions from reporters after practice Monday. This was one interview for which he wasn't going to arrive late.
Bray's jog across the indoor practice field to the waiting horde of media contrasted with Saturday night, when he chose not to meet with the press after Tennessee's 44-13 loss to Alabama.
The no-show infuriated Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, who has been staunch defender of Bray this year. On Monday, Dooley not only told his quarterback to "man-up" after tough losses, he suggested that Bray could be benched if his performance didn't improve.
Bray will start when the Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC) play at No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) on Saturday (TV: ESPN, noon), but his leash could be considerably shorter than usual.
"If he is loose with the ball, he's coming out of the game and we're going to play (Justin) Worley," Dooley said. "And I told him that."
Dooley pinpointed two areas that are preventing the Vols from beating top competition — turnover margin and the disparity between big plays allowed and big plays created.
Eight of the 10 turnovers in conference play are squarely on Bray.
"He's too loose with the football and he's been too loose," Dooley said. "That's the way it is. We can't beat these teams turning the ball over. There are going to be inevitable turnovers in the game, so when there is one, let's make them make a great play to get it, not serve it up to them."
Bray threw two interceptions on Saturday against Alabama. On the first, Bray said he tried to pull back a pass to Justin Hunter to give more time for the route to develop. The ball slipped out of his hands.
Bray said the second interception in the end zone on a pass intended for Pig Howard was one he should have thrown sooner. He knew it was a bad pass as soon as he released it.
Bray said he understood Dooley's admonition that the offense can't be successful without him.
"The quarterback has the ball in his hands every play," said Bray. "If he's throwing it well, the team's playing good. If he's not, the team's going to play bad."
As for skipping out of postgame interviews, Bray was contrite.
"I was mad," he said. "I should have manned up and faced the consequences."
That was the same message delivered by Dooley, both directly to Bray and to media on Monday.
"I was very disappointed and I told him that," Dooley said. "I have no defense for that kind of behavior. He's the quarterback, and there's a level of responsibility that you have to the team, to the fans and to the media. If you don't like it, don't play quarterback. That is how it is."
Dooley called Bray's actions "unacceptable."
"Man up. That's what you have to do," Dooley said. "That's life. You can't have it both ways. You can't get upset at the fans because they are angry. What do you want them to be? Happy? They all want to get cheered but nobody wants the criticism when you don't perform. That's not how life is."
Bray said the message was received, and he knows exactly what it would take to erase the memories of Saturday's rough day.
"A win, period, would be great right now," he said.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.