NASHVILLE — Tennessee football coaches said they had confidence in backup quarterback Justin Worley.
They surprisingly chose to test that confidence in Saturday night's embarrassing 41-18 loss at Vanderbilt.
With starting quarterback Tyler Bray struggling mightily, head coach Derek Dooley elected to insert Worley during the second quarter before replacing him with Bray to open the second half.
"[Bray] just made some real bad decisions early, and then when he threw the interception on first down, we went with Justin to try to settle him down," Dooley said. "We put him back out in the third, and not much really changed. Some of it was the receivers, too.
"I wanted to give Tyler a chance to go back out there. He's earned that, as well as he's played. It didn't really change the result."
Though he was coming off three games in which he threw for 1,302 yards and 13 touchdowns with just one interception, Bray played perhaps the worst game of his Tennessee career Saturday night. He completed just five of his first 14 passes and two of his first five in the second half.
More importantly, though, he threw two interceptions.
"I wasn't playing too good," Bray said. "Everyone could see that. I wasn't moving the ball and I wasn't getting anything done. I talked to [offensive coordinator Jim Chaney] and he said, 'We're going to give you a break and let you cool off. You're too amped up.'
"It's not my decision. No one ever wants to come out of the game. You don't want to come out, and you don't want to watch on the sidelines."
Worley said even he was a little surprised by his insertion into the lineup. Receiver Zach Rogers said the situation was "a little weird." Tailback Rajion Neal said the move caught the Vols "a little off guard."
"We hadn't really discussed it during the week, the chances of me going in," Worley said. "I was a little surprised, but you just have to go out and play football. The guys were like, 'All right, you're in, let's get things going.'"
Bray's first interception was a forced throw to tailback Marlin Lane on a checkdown that Vanderbilt's Rob Lohr tipped at the line into the hands of Johnell Thomas with the Vols leading 7-3.
Worley, who started three games when Bray was hurt last season, entered on the next series and promptly threw an interception to Andre Hal when it appeared receiver Cordarrelle Patterson kept running when he should have stopped his route. Dooley said he "didn't think it was Justin's fault"; Worley simply said it was a "bad football play."
Worley settled into a rhythm on the next series and threw three passes to Hunter to move the Vols down the field on a series that ended in a field goal.
Bray, who was caught by TV cameras staring at what looked like the Vanderbilt bench following his touchdown pass to Rogers in the second quarter, then started the second half and threw a strike right to Hal on Tennessee's second possession when it appeared Patterson again ran the wrong route.
Worley re-entered the game with the Vols down 41-10 with 9:52 remaining in the game.
"I thought pulling him and letting him read and look at it and calm down would help," Dooley said, "and it obviously didn't."
In addition to suspended freshman cornerback Deion Bonner, nickelback Eric Gordon (knee) traveled but didn't play, and freshman corner Daniel Gray did not travel because of a virus. Walk-on Jaron Toney earned his third consecutive start in Gordon's place.
Without Bonner and Gray, fifth-year senior Marsalis Teague played more than usual and was guarding Vanderbilt's Chris Boyd on his second-quarter juggling touchdown catch in the back of the end zone.
Tailback/returner Devrin Young also did not travel for what Tennessee announced as "personal reasons" before the game. The sophomore's role has diminished greatly this season on both offense and special teams. He also missed one practice the week of the South Carolina game to attend a funeral and didn't play against Troy due to a concussion.
The emergence of Patterson has eliminated Young's kick-return role, as he's not returned a kick since the Mississippi State game. He returned two punts for 21 yards against Missouri last week, and his season-long return is 35 yards, which came against Georgia State. Freshman Quenshaun Watson has overtaken him in the backfield pecking order, and Young has just seven carries since a 13-carry game -- and a crucial fumble -- against Mississippi State.
Palardy punting, passing
As a punter, Michael Palardy had a solid Saturday night.
After the ugly pass he threw into the turf on an unsuccessful fake-punt try in the third quarter, the junior likely will prefer to stick to his main job.
"Mike threw the ball in the grass," Dooley said. "I thought we had a guy there. Mike throws it pretty good. I don't know; maybe he wasn't loose. It probably surprised him when I called it."
Palardy was key in the first-half field position battle when he pinned Vanderbilt inside its 10-yard line. A 50-yard boot kicked parallel to the goal line and was downed at the 1. A 32-yard sky punt forced a fair catch at the 9.
In the fourth quarter, Palardy blasted a perfect punt that traveled 51 yards.
Tennessee's eight Nashville natives -- left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, center James Stone, utility offensive lineman Alex Bullard, safety Rod Wilks, Gordon and receivers Rogers and Jacob Carter -- served as the game's captains. ... Tennessee's scoreless first quarter was just fourth time this season the Vols haven't scored in any quarter. ... Defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry (knee sprain) did not make the trip and missed his second consecutive game. ... Senior linebacker Herman Lathers left the game on the third quarter's final play after making a tackle in which his helmet came flying off. ... After allowing just five sacks all season, the Vols' offensive line surrendered two against the Commodores. ... Justin Hunter went over 1,000 yards for the season with three catches in the second quarter.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...