April seems so far away – especially for Tyler Bray.
Five months ago in Tennessee’s spring game, the sophomore quarterback looked dreadful. He completed just 5 of 30 passes against his teammates.
Despite going 4-1 as a starter in the last five games of the 2010 season, many Vols’ fans began to panic.
Two games into the 2011 season, that spring day seems like a distant memory for Bray and for Tennessee (2-0).
In victories over Montana and Cincinnati, the sophomore quarterback completed 78.4 percent of his throws for 698 yards and seven touchdowns. He did not throw an interceptions.
Heading into Saturday’s showdown at No. 16 Florida (2:30 p.m., CBS), he leads the Southeastern Conference and and ranks among the top 10 nationally in passing.
“It starts with his play and it helps if you are going to be a leader -- being able to walk the walk is important,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said earlier this week. “He has certainly played two very good football games. That is the starting point. I think secondly what goes with that is he has put a big investment in trying to be good. You see it on the practice field. You see it in the time he’s putting in outside of practice. When you are putting a lot of investment and you are committing yourself to being good and you are playing good then you have the ability to affect others in a positive way.”
Bray and a youthful Tennessee offensive line will get a big test this weekend.
The Gators (2-0) have allowed just three points in blowout victories against Florida Atlantic and UAB. They have allowed an average of 174.5 yards of offense, including 124 through the air – ranking second in the SEC.
“It will be a good measuring stick of where we are,” Dooley said. “The first thing you notice on defense is probably the most talented defensive line in the country. They are extremely big, athletic, disruptive and almost impossible to block. If you’re five [offensive linemen] can’t block their four, it doesn’t matter what plays you have it is going to be a long day.”
It also will be Bray first road game out of the state of Tennessee.
Last year, he was inserted into the starting lineup in the Vols’ ninth game of the season. His only two road games were in Nashville – in a win against Vanderbilt and a double-overtime loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
He’ll face his biggest challenge yet on Saturday in front of 90,000 fans at “The Swamp.”
“He could go out there and have a spring game, or he could go out there and light it up,” Dooley said. “I know this: it’s not all on Tyler. We’ve got to block those four guys up front. We’ve got to handle all the blitzes and junk they are going to bring us. We’ve got to get open. We’ve got to catch the football. But if everybody does those things, that doesn't guarantee [a win] either.
"Tyler's got to prepare and be ready.”