Derek Dooley is the hot talk in Knoxville, justifiably so, and his firing only seems inevitable if he loses to South Carolina and doesn’t win seven games. While there was still some support for Dooley before last Saturday, it’s on the scale of fading fast to nearly already gone. He’s 0-14 against ranked opponents, with a sub .500 record since taking over Tennessee, and the Vol faithful want success now.
And while Dooley deserves much of the criticism, Tyler Bray hasn’t exactly put the offense in a position to succeed. After all, he’s the big-armed ‘surefire’ first-round draft pick Tennessee’s been waiting on since Peyton Manning – or at least that was the talk exiting 2010 and in early 2011.
Big Game Bray hasn’t exactly been big in conference play; rather, it’s been a chasm of a difference. Here are his 2010-2012 out-of-conference (OOC) and in-conference (SEC) stats broken down by year:
*The numbers were derived starting from Memphis in 2010 up to current 2012. The bottom two lines total his output against non-conference and SEC opponents.
Bray is torching out-of-conference opponents each and every week in remarkable fashion. He’s undefeated against them in 2012 and 7-1 for his career, completing 69 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. However, the difference in the numbers from non-SEC and in-conference opponents is staggering. Bray is only completing 51 percent of his passes for the same yardage – in three more games – with 19 touchdowns and 18 interceptions against SEC opponents.
So, at times when Tennessee has needed a calming leader who grits his teeth when the going gets tough, the Vols haven’t been able to count on Tyler Bray. Case in point, when Bray took heat for “quitting” in the Florida game in the second half when adversity came.
Bray is the one who had a message for the “bandwagon fans” after the Mississippi State loss via Twitter:
“We got some bandwagon fans. Hopefully my apt. isn’t egged.”
And he concludes my argument by not even showing up at the Alabama post-game press conference, where even Dooley said it was unacceptable to have such an attitude no matter how much frustration is built up.
I get the disappointment, but it’s part of getting better as a player; it’s wanting to get better as a player.
Still, Tennessee’s on-the-field lack of success doesn’t start with Bray, and it doesn’t end with Bray. The defense has been putrid and is currently ranked 98th in the country and dead last in the SEC in total defense, yielding over 440 yards of total offense per game. Not to mention, Justin Hunter, who several “experts” have as the top receiver coming off the board in this spring’s NFL Draft, is one of the softer players in all of college football. And I guess when you tear an ACL it does play tricks on your mind, but there’s a level of toughness that is notably absent when he plays the game.
However, if Tennessee does go a different direction with another head coach, you can just about bet that Bray, Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson will jump to the next level, too. But if Dave Hart and Tennessee stick with Dooley, I think you still see at least two of these players – Bray and Patterson – come back to try and get better and improve their draft status. It’s a catch 22.
Dooley, who has been one of Bray’s biggest supporters throughout the tough times, almost babying him at times, said as recently as yesterday that Bray needs to ‘man up’ as the signal caller, and he let Tyler know that if he plays ‘loose’ against South Carolina that he won’t hesitate to replace him with backup Justin Worley.
Maybe some tough love will get Bray picking up his game against SEC opponents. South Carolina is a 14-point favorite Saturday.