As Tennessee experienced a second-half collapse against Florida all eyes went to Tyler Bray.
The junior quarterback threw a pivotal interception and failed to rally the Vols past the Gators. But he drew more criticism in the loss for his lackadaisical demeanor and poor body language.
Last weekend against Akron his composure once again was tested. On the third play of the game, he threw an interception that was returned 44 yards for a touchdown that put UT in a 7-0 hole.
This could have ignited another negative reaction from Bray. Instead, he stayed calm, regained his focus and passed for 401 yards and four touchdowns in a 47-26 win.
“It was a big step for Tyler,” coach Derek Dooley said on Monday. “There were a lot of conversations about how you manage what goes wrong in a game and how your body language and your thoughts and your words can affect other people, especially guys on the team. He made some bad throws early, bad decisions early and was frustrated wanting to get something happening.
“But he really kept a nice calm about him and worked his way through the game. He got better and better and better as the game went on. That was a good step for Tyler.”
The tests continue for Bray, though, as Tennessee (3-1, 0-1 SEC) travels to No. 5 Georgia (4-0, 2-0) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS).
Dooley said his quarterback has begun to shake off a nasty cold that bothered him all last week. Bray sounded raspy on Saturday night but didn’t let that or his first-quarter mistake get the best of him.
“We were putting together drives. The defense was making stops. We just couldn’t finish,” Bray said. “We knew weren’t going to do that all night. We knew eventually they were going to get tired and wear down. That’s what happened. ... We finished the game, which we didn’t do last week.”
Bray closed the door on the upset-minded Zips in the second half.
He threw three touchdowns after halftime and to finish with his sixth fourth-touchdown game of his career. His 12 touchdowns lead the SEC and 325.2 yards per game is second to only Tyler Wilson of Arkansas.
He now has two career 400-yard plus passing performances. He was just four yards shy of his career-high (405), which he set last year against Cincinnati. Peyton Manning (three times) is the only other UT quarterback to eclipse 400 yards in a single game.
“Tyler wants to be a good quarterback and he is on his journey of being one,” Dooley said. “I think his level of want-to and want to win and want to be a great quarterback is a lot greater than what might be the perception of many.
"We all bring things on ourselves, so his goal is to work his way out of that and prove to people, not only that he is a really good quarterback, but how important it is to be good and how important it is to help this team win.”