Vols talk about Tennessee vs. Florida
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Nearly a year has passed since a slumped-shouldered Tyler Bray divulged, "It's not like we played scared, but we played like we really didn't know what we were doing."
The Tennessee quarterback had few answers for the Vols' 33-23 loss at Florida last September. He entered the game ranked fourth nationally with 698 passing yards in two games. The week before brought SEC offensive player of the week honors after a four-touchdown outing against Cincinnati.
The hype surrounding Bray in 2011 would have crescendoed with a victory against Florida.
Instead, it flatlined.
Bray completed 26 of 48 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, but two costly second-half interceptions marred the statline.
Now the 2012 season is two games old. Bray's 194.8 quarterback rating ranks fifth in the country. The hype is back, and even includes whispers of another "H" word.
So what's different one year later?
"One year older," Bray said Tuesday following practice.
Feeling more confident?
"Nah, same old same."
Often as tepid as tap water, Bray has never played into the hype around him.
That doesn't mean others don't sound the trumpets.
On the eve of the 2012 version of Tennessee-Florida, UT wideout Justin Hunter has declared Bray the best quarterback in the country.
On Tuesday, the junior added that his quarterback is "taking charge" and "wants to have a big game, every game."
Two contests into his junior season, Bray has racked up 643 passing yards on 45 completions in 61 attempts and connected on six touchdowns, three to Hunter.
"I wouldn't trade him," UT head coach Derek Dooley said Tuesday. "He's playing good, he has a good demeanor."
Bray's claim that the only difference between 2011 and 2012 is him being one year older was echoed by wide receiver Zach Rogers, but with some added depth.
"He's a lot more confident in what he's got," said Rogers, a senior with two receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. "He's becoming more of a veteran every day and you see it here on the practice field — taking his third reads instead of just firing at his first read. He's really sitting back and progressing and it's great to see. He's becoming a leader every day."
Bray's 45 completions have been spread among 11 receivers with only Hunter (17) having more than nine.
Following three seasons in Knoxville, Bray's lone noteworthy victories have come over Cincinnati and N.C. State.
The 18th-ranked Gators offer a potential marquee win, the keyword being "potential."
"He's a proven quarterback and needs a signature win like this, and we're going to do everything we can to help him," Rogers said.
And if they do, the results could match the hype.
On the injury front, Dooley said linebackers Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (toe) "moved around" at practice, but are not yet back to 100 percent. Each remains questionable for Saturday.
Additionally, Dooley said sophomore tight end Brendan Downs (dislocated patella), who practiced with a brace on his left knee Tuesday, is recovering rapidly and could see the field against Florida.
Assessing the UT defensive line after two games, junior nose tackle Daniel McCullers said the Vols currently grade out to a B-minus.
"We could have done a lot better on our double teams and inside zone plays, but other than that on our pass protection, some of our wide zone plays, power plays, worked out pretty well," McCullers said.
The Vols' attack at the line of scrimmage will be crucial against Florida, which allowed eight sacks against Texas A&M last weekend.
Via its official football Twitter account (@Vol_Football), Tennessee announced Saturday's showdown with Florida will be played before a full house at Neyland Stadium:"The Florida game is officially SOLD OUT. Thanks #Vols fans. See you Saturday. 102,455 Loud and Proud. #BeatFlorida"