A Short Leash: Bray’s ‘loose’ play could lead to spot on the bench
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
KNOXVILLE — Playing “loose” with the football is how Derek Dooley described Tyler Bray’s performances in four SEC losses this season.
With another daunting league opponent on the schedule today — Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC) takes on No. 17 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 SEC) today at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia at noon on ESPN — it’s playing “loose” that could get Bray benched.
“If he is loose with the ball he is coming out of the game and we are going to play (backup quarterback Justin) Worley,” Dooley said Monday during his weekly press conference.
“And I told him that. He is too loose with the football and he’s been too loose. That’s the way it is. We can’t win, we can’t beat these team turning the ball over.”
In total, Bray has accounted for eight interceptions and a fumble in SEC losses to No. 3 Florida, No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama — four teams that have combined to go 27-1 entering Saturday. He’s thrown six touchdown passes against those nine turnovers in the four losses.
Outside of SEC play, Bray has thrown 10 touchdown passes to just one interception — a pick-6 on the Vols’ third play from scrimmage against Akron on Sept. 15.
He completed 27 of 41 passes for 333 yards and two scores to start the year against North Carolina State. He missed on just two passes, throwing for 310 yards and four scores against Georgia State. His season high in yardage, 401, came against Akron, another game where he threw for four touchdowns.
But in SEC games it’s been a different level of competition — and a different Bray.
He turned it over three times on Tennessee’s last three possessions — two interceptions and a fumble — in the Vols’ 51-44 loss at Georgia, a game where he threw a season-high three picks. He was picked off twice by Florida and once at Mississippi State.
“I don’t think you have to play perfect at all,” Dooley continued on Monday. “Being loose with the football doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play perfect but you can’t make game-changing plays.”
Bray never got comfortable last week in Tennessee’s 44-13 loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide, completing just 13 of 27 passes for 184 yards and a pair of interceptions. Alabama picked off Bray for the second time in the Tennessee end zone.
“I was trying to press,” Bray said on Monday. “I was just rushing through my reads instead of being patient, because the line blocked great for me all night. So instead of being patient, I just rushed through it and might have made some throws I shouldn’t have thrown.
“I just need to calm down. I rushed way too much that game and tried to play too fast. I just need to kind of relax.”
Bray said all of that Monday, after declining to speak with the media Saturday night after the loss — just another step in the downward spiral of Bray’s season through seven games.
“I was very disappointed and I told him that,” Dooley said of Bray’s decision not to speak after the game. “I have no defense for that kind of behavior. He is the quarterback and there is 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 the first time we’ve ever had a guy do that and that is unacceptable in our program. Man up. That is what you have to do. That is life. You can’t have it both ways.”
Bray admitted Monday he needed to “face the consequences” after a loss like last week’s. But another bad performance from Tennessee’s offensive leader and he may not have that option.
“The quarterback has the ball in his hands every play,” Bray said this week. “If he’s throwing it well, the team’s playing good. If he’s not, the team’s going to play bad.”
If he’s not throwing it well today, he may not get another chance.