Bray thrives as UT throttles Ga. State
By Steve Megargee | AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE — Now that Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter have regained their health, Tennessee’s entire football program seems in much better shape.
Hunter tied a school single-game record Saturday by catching three of Bray’s four touchdown passes, as Tennessee trounced Football Championship Subdivision program Georgia State 51-13 in front of an announced crowd of 87,821 at its home opener. Bray went 18 of 20 for 310 yards and Hunter caught eight passes for 146 yards.
“I think everybody was healthy today, (and) you all saw the scoreboard,” Hunter said. “It was pretty good.”
The blowout assures Tennessee (2-0) takes a perfect record into next week’s Southeastern Conference opener against Florida, which has beaten the Volunteers seven consecutive times. The Vols recorded their highest single-game point total since Derek Dooley took over the program in 2010.
Tennessee also won its first two games last year thanks in part to the Bray-Hunter combination, but the season went downhill from there.
Hunter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee early in a loss to Florida in the Vols’ third game. Bray missed five games later in the year with a fractured right thumb and wasn’t the same upon his return. The Vols finished 5-7 for their second straight losing season, the first time in a century they had posted losing records in back-to-back years.
Bray and Hunter now seem back in peak form.
Through his first two games of the season, Bray has thrown for 643 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
“We were outmanned, we were outrun, outrouted and outfootworked,” Georgia State coach Bill Curry said. “We were taught some painful lessons by a great receiver corps and potentially a great quarterback. He really understands how to deliver it.”
Bray completed his last 13 passes Saturday — the third-longest streak in school history — and didn’t have an incompletion after the first quarter. He threw the three TD passes to Hunter and also had a 19-yard scoring strike to tight end Mychal Rivera, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday.
“I’ve told you guys Tyler is the best quarterback in the country,” Rivera said. “That’s how I feel.”
Bray took the compliment in stride.
“I just think Mike’s sucking up (to me),” Bray said. “I mean, he wants more passes. He’s always going to say something like that.”
Bray wasn’t the only Tennessee player delivering big numbers.
After showing some signs of rust last week in a 35-21 victory over North Carolina State, Hunter had one of his best performances in a Tennessee uniform Saturday. A Tennessee player had caught three touchdown passes in a game eight previous times, most recently by Chris Hannon in a 59-21 victory over Mississippi State in 2003.
“Last week, he didn’t get any touchdowns and I just told him to be patient and his time would come,” said Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who caught three passes for 71 yards. “Tonight was his time. It was pretty awesome.”
Hunter has 17 catches for 219 yards through his first two games of the season.
“He’s had two good games, but I still think he’s got a lot of improving to do and a lot of developing to do to really play to his potential,” Dooley said. “But he looked good out there today. They were giving him free access. It’s not going to be like that next week. They’re going to put their hands on him.”
Rajion Neal added two touchdown runs for Tennessee, which broke the game open against the Panthers (0-2) when Hunter scored twice in the last 4 1/2 minutes of the first half.
Tennessee exceeded the 500-yard mark in total offense for a second straight week. The Vols hadn’t gained 500 yards in back-to-back games since November 2000.
The one sign of concern for Tennessee was its kicking game, an issue in previous seasons as well. Michael Palardy missed an extra-point attempt for the second straight week and also was wide left on a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter. In the fourth quarter, Dooley turned to Derrick Brodus, who made a 25-yard field goal and an extra-point attempt.
“That’s obviously a concern going forward,” Dooley said. “We’re going to see what the issue was.”
Georgia State, in its last year as an FCS program before joining the Sun Belt next season, had been outscored 119-7 in its only two previous games against Football Bowl Subdivision programs. The Panthers endured another one-sided loss Saturday, though they at least kept this one close for 25 minutes.
A pair of field goals by Christian Benvenuto had Georgia State within 14-6 late in the second quarter, but Hunter caught two touchdown passes in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the half to put the game out of reach. Georgia State quarterback Ben McLane’s 12-yard keeper with 58 seconds left gave Georgia State its first offensive touchdown against an FBS opponent. Its only previous touchdown against an FBS foe had come on a kickoff return in a 63-7 loss to Alabama in 2010.
Curry became the first head coach to face both Dooley and his father, Vince, who coached at Georgia from 1964-88. Curry had posted a 2-5 record against Georgia while coaching Georgia Tech from 1980-86.
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