Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray (8) looks downfield for an open man while a lineman ties up Mississippi State defensive lineman Dewayne Cherrington (74) in the first quarter of their NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
KNOXVILLE — As usual, quarterback Tyler Bray was one of the last Tennessee players to leave the locker room beyond one end zone of Mississippi State's Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday night.
The junior walked with a slight limp, a result of a play where he left knee was twisted up under him during the third quarter of the Volunteers' 41-31 road loss to the 19th-ranked Bulldogs.
After declaring his knee to be "fine" in a matter-of-fact manner, Bray evaluated his own performance in Tennessee's disappointing defeat.
"We lost, so I didn't play very well," he said of 13-of-24, 148-yard performance that saw him throw two touchdowns and one meaningless interception.
"Any time you lose, it's not good," he continued.
Some ensuing words on social media shortly after his postgame interview bore that out. In response to some continued criticism he likely faced on Twitter after the loss, Bray, who is still without a notable Southeastern Conference win as Tennessee's quarterback, took to his own account.
"We got some bandwagon fans. Hopefully my apt. isn't egged."
The reference was to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, a friend of Bray's whose apartment was egged by upset fans last week after the Bulldogs were blown out 35-7 at South Carolina.
Bray's tweet was eventually deleted, and he issued an apology Sunday afternoon via Twitter.
"Just want to apologize for my tweet last night," Bray wrote. "Was just frustrated after the tough loss. Sorry VOL nation."
After leading Tennessee on an impressive opening touchdown drive and a three-and-out, Bray and his offensive teammates didn't take the field again for more than eight minutes of game time and much longer in real time. Two long Mississippi State drives, Cordarrelle Patterson's kickoff return touchdown and the Bulldogs' recovery of a short kickoff turned the Vols into sideline spectators.
An offense that aims for 85 plays per game ran just 20 in the first half and 58 in the game.
"That's over a quarter that we lacked," coach Derek Dooley said. "We didn't get [into] a lot of the throwing. We didn't want to get into a pass fest.
"We were trying to settle the game down and control the ball a little bit, and we did a good job of that and clawed our way back a little bit."
Tennessee finished with 34 rushing attempts to 24 pass plays. That number tied the lowest in Bray's career as a starter, and those other instances — Montana in the 2011 opener and Georgia State in September — came when Bray was subbed with the Vols holding big leads. Bray threw just five passes in the second quarter when the Vols ran only seven plays.
"We had 20 minutes, it felt like, we weren't on the field," he said. "You get kind of cold. You try to go out there and do too much, and that's what happened."
On a third-and-4 from Tennessee's 33, Bray threw incomplete deep to Zach Rogers. On the Vols' next possession, he took a deep shot to Justin Hunter, who alligator-armed and dropped a well-thrown pass. Dooley said one of those throws was a poor read by a "jumpy" Bray.
"He did really well," the coach said when asked how he thought Bray worked his way through the game. "I thought in that second quarter he started getting antsy. It's hard when you're standing over there."
"We were all pretty antsy," Rogers said. "We're an offense that's used to putting up 50 plays a half, and when we only get 20, it's tough for us to find our rhythm. That's what got us tonight."
After missing Hunter badly on a third down that forced Tennessee to settle for a field goal in the third quarter, Bray threw two beautifully lofted passes to Patterson later in the third and fullback/tight end Ben Bartholomew in the fourth for touchdowns as the Vols' rally fell short.
"He settled down and let the game come to him," Dooley said. "In the second half, he played pretty good. He's out there hobbling a little bit, too."
• Tennessee lost its top two tailbacks when Marlin Lane (thigh) exited the game in the first half and starter Rajion Neal (ankle) went down in the third quarter. Neal, who had 40 yards on nine carries when he left the game, left the stadium in a walking boot. Left tackle Antonio Richardson helped Neal carry his bag to the bus.
• Cornerback Justin Coleman left the game on Mississippi State's clinching touchdown drive with a head injury.
• Linebacker Curt Maggitt went in and out of the lineup, and Dooley said he's "struggling" with the nagging turf toe injury that's plagued him all season.
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 ...