KNOXVILLE — The question to Tennessee freshman quarterback Tyler Bray went something like this:
“Tyler, which would you rather face — a nasty, aggressive defensive line like Ole Miss, or a room full of (semi) nasty, aggressive reporters?”
Answered Bray without so much as a smile during the Volunteers’ news conference Monday afternoon: “A defensive line. This is probably the hardest part of all of this. It’s nerve-racking. You have to keep thinking of what you’re going to say before you say it. You don’t want to say something you shouldn’t.”
This is not to say Bray will ever have reason to bray about the media, at least not as long as he keeps throwing five touchdowns for 308 yards in a single half, as he did in the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s 50-14 victory over Memphis.
This also is not to say that the Southeastern Conference’s newest freshman of the week is necessarily looking forward to facing the Rebels’ physical front of D.T. Shackelford, 320-pound nose tackle Jerrell Powe, Ted Laurent and Jason Jones this Saturday.
As Bray was quick to observe, “They’re twice as big as I am.”
But if the past two weeks are any indication, the rest of the college football world is finally figuring out what Vols running back Tauren Poole decided the first time he saw the California Kid fling a football.
“He was just effortless, nonchalant,” Poole said. “And the passes were always perfect. I knew then he was going to be a great quarterback for us. I just didn’t realize it would be now.”
Where the Tennessee football program is now is where it always has been most comfortable — November. The Vols are 34-9 in the Thanksgiving month over the past 10 years, at least somewhat because the schedule always includes SEC turkeys Kentucky and Vanderbilt (19-1 in that span).
Throw in a truly horrid program such as this year’s Memphis team and a hit-or-miss Ole Miss squad, and you’ve got the recipe for an annual monthlong football feast.
But if the second half at South Carolina and the opening half at Memphis are any indication, Bray could sway September and October the Vols’ way next season and beyond.
And it isn’t just his outrageous talent. The kid dripping in California cool may sound wary of the media, but his Monday observations were those of a bright, witty, thoughtful pro rather than a reckless rookie.
Asked the last time he raised his voice in a huddle, Bray said, “Maybe middle school. You start yelling at your offensive linemen and the next thing you know they start throwing ‘Look out’ blocks out there.”
(Translation: Look out, you’re about to get hit, which means the linemen don’t block at all.)
On buying gifts for his linemen in the future if they limit his sacks: “I haven’t promised them anything yet. But I should probably take them out to dinner once the season’s over.”
On his own performance against Memphis: “It’s not a single-person sport. I think we did well as a team.”
On what he’ll have to eat to go from his current weight of less than 200 pounds to his preferred weight of 225 by next season: “Uh, small children.”
On five different players catching his five TDs against Memphis: “It helps the offense if they don’t think they’re decoys on routes.”
On whether or not he has Peyton Manning’s cell-phone number: “I wish.”
Part of UT coach Derek Dooley loves all this about his overnight sensation eight months in the making, and part of him loathes it.
“I think he’s one of those guys — he’s got a lot of confidence, and that’s a great quality,” Dooley said of Bray.
“Now what comes with that is sometimes guys like that have to experience some heavy failures to learn, if that makes sense. Even though we say don’t throw it when they do that, it’s going to take an interception for a touchdown for him to really learn it.”
“That’s usually what very confident players are like. That ‘Hey, I know you told me that, but I’m not your average Joe.’ Then they do it, and they say, ‘Well, maybe I can’t do that one.’ The challenge is going to be can Tyler keep his focus and perform like [against Memphis] every week.”
Especially on those weeks when we semi-nasty, aggressive reporters aren’t so kind to him following a nerve-racking game in which he doesn’t perform as he did in Memphis.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...