KNOXVILLE -- With few exceptions, first-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley thought the Volunteers' most consistent offensive players throughout spring practice performed well in Saturday's Orange and White game.
One of those exceptions was potentially the most worrisome, though.
Dooley refused to single out junior college transfer Matt Simms, but the Vols' most consistent quarterback for most of the past month threw three interceptions in his Orange team's 16-7 loss.
Many of the 35,891 people in Neyland Stadium left concerned with Simms' performance, but the quarterback wasn't one of them.
"Honestly, I'm fine," Simms said. "It's a spring game and people come here expecting a good show, and we tried to give them one. I threw a couple of balls down the field that I probably wouldn't have thrown in a real game, and unfortunately the defense came up with some of them.
"It's not a big deal. If I threw three interceptions against Florida or Alabama ... yeah, that would be a big deal."
With evenly divided teams drafted by the seniors earlier in the week, January enrollee Tyler Bray clearly out-performed Simms. Bray completed 18 of 40 passes for 200 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, while Simms completed 12 of 26 passes for one touchdown and the three pickoffs.
Dooley cautioned against reading too much into Saturday's glorified scrimmage.
"You know, with the quarterbacks, this game's always kind of tough, because especially in our situation, Matt and Tyler are very different in the things they do well," Dooley said. "It's hard to really shape and game plan to fit their strengths. That's why you don't want to put too much on this game. You do see some physical skills.
"Now, a couple of decisions were disappointing, and we've got to get better at that. That doesn't have anything to do with the game plan."
Simms' last interception sealed the game with less than three minutes left. He forced a throw near the sideline to well-covered Gerald Jones, and cornerback Anthony Anderson kept his feet in bounds while snaring it at the 30-yard line.
Anderson, a former star at Knoxville's Austin-East High School, returned the theft to the end zone but was ruled out of bounds at the 22 with 2:54 left.
"If I could have one back, yeah, that last one would be the one," Simms said.
"You always don't want to make too big a judgment, but certainly the last (interception) didn't have to happen, and Matt knows that," the coach said. "It wasn't worth the risk."
The second interception was made by Dalton's Stephaun Raines with 6:06 left.
The first of three field goals from reserve Chip Rhome, a 41-yarder, gave the White team a lead with 2:12 left in the first half. The White team then forced a punt, and Bray calmly led them back down the field for the game's first touchdown. Bray passed to Denarius Moore for a 3-yard score with 0:21 left in the half, giving the White team a 10-0 lead.
Simms, a junior college transfer and the son of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms, tried to respond in the closing seconds but was intercepted by Darren Myles Jr. near midfield.
"I just made a play," Myles said. "I'm a safety. That's my job."
Austin Johnson, a converted fullback who starred all spring at middle linebacker, said the White defense didn't try confusing Simms with any complex schemes.
"Honestly, we just stayed in our base, but today showed you how good a base defense can be when you get all 11 guys on the same page, executing their assignments," said Johnson, who had five tackles. "We've got a long way to go, obviously, but I think we had a good spring and a good day today."
Tailback Tauren Poole, who likely cemented a starting position with a solid spring, keyed the White offense with a team-high 43 rushing yards and 58 yards on three catches.
"Tauren has made big plays in every scrimmage -- the spring game and the two scrimmages -- and he did it again today," Dooley said. "I'm really pleased with how he's running the ball. We still need David Oku to come on, and I think he will, but I'm really pleased with Poole.
"Poole's got great character; he's a hard worker, a hard runner; he can go out and do some things in the pass game, and he breaks a lot of tackles. He's going to be a real key for us this year."
Simms and Jones got the Orange team on the scoreboard in the third quarter. They hooked up three consecutive times for 22, 33 and 6 yards, the last one reaching the end zone to get the White team within 10-7 with 3:11 left in the period.
Coaches appeared to give the White team a nice break on its first scoring drive, though. Defensive end Chris Walker touched Simms with both hands before the quarterback delivered a first-down pass on a third-and-8 early in the drive, but the play wasn't whistled dead.
"No doubt I got him, but it's cool," Walker said with a smile.
Jones led the Vols with 84 yards on six catches, and Moore added 39 yards on three catches. Moore was open on several more occasions but was the target of most of Bray's inaccurate tosses.
Tight end Luke Stocker, who sat out Saturday with a sore shoulder, was sorely missed by the Orange offense.
"Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore really showed that they're good, SEC-quality receivers with an ability to make plays, and we're going to need them to do that this year," Dooley said. "We missed having Luke out there. It's nothing serious. His shoulder just didn't recover as quickly as we'd hoped, and we didn't want to risk playing him."
The White team had a chance to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Raines intercepted Simms near midfield. The Orange defense held one more time, but Simms' last pick essentially ended the game.
"I thought it was a good, competitive matchup, and both sides played hard," Dooley said. "Like so many games, and so much of what we worked on this spring, we're sitting there with 3:23 to go in the game and it's 13-7. It's such a critical time in the game to execute, make good decisions, don't make bad mistakes, do the common things uncommonly well. And there was a bad decision, a big play by the White team on an interception, and that ended up being the difference in the game."
"Overall, I'm really proud of this football team, how they've handled themselves over the last two months, the work they've put into our program. They've really embraced some new ways of doing things. Their attitudes have been tremendous, and their effort has been great, and I'm really pleased with how the spring ended."
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