KNOXVILLE-A man of few words anyway, Tyler Bray didn't have much to say when asked about his disappointing performance Saturday afternoon.
"It's a spring game," the Tennessee quarterback said.
The lanky rising sophomore completed just five of his 30 passes in chilly, windy conditions in Saturday's Orange and White Game at Neyland Stadium, and tailback Rajion Neal and backup quarterback Matt Simms helped lead the White team to a 24-7 win.
"You know what I said Thursday: If Tyler would have gone 27-of-30 for 300 [yards], I would have said, 'Yeah, we're doing good,'" Volunteers coach Derek Dooley said. "If he would have gone 5-for-30, which is what he did, it's just the spring game, it doesn't matter. That's the one day the coaches become fans, so we're having our cake and eating it, too."
Bray had a so-so performance in last year's spring game, throwing for 200 yards and a touchdown despite completing just 45 percent (18-of-30) of his passes. That performance didn't hinder him from becoming a star at the end of his freshman season when the California gunslinger helped lead the Vols to a bowl game with 1,705 yards and numerous big plays in his last 12 quarters.
His lone big play Saturday was a 54-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mychal Rivera that trimmed the White's lead to 10-7 in the third quarter. Bray missed on his first eight throws and had just three completions on 18 passes at halftime.
"There were a lot of reasons he wasn't on, and it starts with him," Dooley said. "I think he went in a little bit confident feeling good about the matchups, and when you're not on edge you're never going to perform. There were some serious mismatches in protection that I think affected him early, and then once it gets going bad early you've got to get that run game settled in. I think the head coach kept wanting to sling it, so that's what we got."
Simms, who watched Bray take his job in late October last season after the Vols went 2-6 in his eight starts, tossed a 43-yard scoring pass to Neal on a wheel route for the game's first score and ran for another touchdown in the third. Neal scampered in from 12 yards in the fourth quarter for the game's final score.
"Look," Dooley said, "that's why I never wanted when there was all that talk and I talked to Matt, that's why I kept saying we're going to need him at some point next year to win us a football game."
The rising senior has embraced his role as Bray's backup and appeared to be having fun celebrating the win after the game.
"I believe I have ability," Simms said. "I played against some pretty good teams in this conference. I have experience and that's a good thing to have for a second quarterback, God forbid if anything happen. I just take it one day at a time, and I'm happy to be here."
As for Bray, while he wasn't happy with the poor ending to the solid spring of improvement he had, Saturday's performance isn't really likely to have a long-term effect. He's also much like the rest of the Vols in his progression.
"I'm obviously glad nobody got hurt and I was real proud of how we ended up spring," Dooley said. "I felt like everybody ended up spring improved and our units improved. We still have a long way to go, but we're headed in the right direction."
Correspondent Matt Dixon contributed to this story.