'The first time'

Tennessee freshman quarterback Tyler Bray must've been tempted to laugh when some Vol veterans approached him shortly before his first collegiate start Saturday night at Memphis.

"They came up to me before the game and tried to get me to relax since it was my first time," he recalled, noting that they also suggested he "take some short routes to try and relieve the pressure."

First, telling Tyler Bray to relax is like telling the sun to shine. If this kid were any more relaxed he'd fall asleep in the huddle.

As for the "take some short routes" suggestion, that proved equally laughable. Bray opened Tennessee's second possession with a 20-yard pass to Gerald Jones and a 41-yard hookup with Tauren Poole. Moments later he threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Poole.

The Vols' third possession consisted of three plays - a 14-yard pass from Bray to Luke Stocker, a 26-yarder to Jones and a 42-yard TD toss to Justin Hunter. So much for "short" routes ...

The fifth possession saw him complete throws of 16, 15, 15 and 14 yards to Moore - the last one being Bray's third TD pass of the half. He opened possession No. 6 with a 40-yard pass that Moore dropped in the end zone. Undaunted, Bray found Stocker for 10, then hit Da' Rick Rogers with a 22-yard strike for his fourth TD of the half.

Following a Memphis turnover, Bray immediately tossed his fifth touchdown pass of the half, a 10-yarder to Jones. Moments later, after completing a 32-yard pass to Stocker, Bray would've recorded his sixth scoring pass of the half except Hunter caught the 15-yard toss a few inches beyond the end line. Tennessee settled for a field goal and a 40-7 intermission lead.

Bray finished the half 17 of 28 for 308 yards, an average of 18.1 yards per completion.

Did anything surprise him?

"Not really," he deadpanned. "We had studied a lot and kind of knew what they were going to show us. We knew we just needed to stick to the game plan and we'd put points on the board. We just went out there and executed."

So, he expected to unload 28 passes in the first half?

"No," he replied. "I thought we were actually going to run the ball a lot more because Tauren's been running the ball great. I figured they'd try to take some pressure off me by running the ball a lot more. But I guess they decided, 'Hey, let's go out there and throw it.'"

Given how well Bray can "go out there and throw it," that was a pretty sound strategy Saturday night at Liberty Bowl Stadium.

He completed just 2 of 5 third-quarter passes before taking a seat on the bench. His final stat line showed 19 completions in 33 attempts for 325 yards and the five TDs. That was pretty good for a first start.

"He had a phenomenal first half," Vol head coach Derek Dooley said, subsequently adding: "He made some great throws. He avoided the rush really well. He got rid of the ball and took some hard shots."

Whereas former Vol quarterback Peyton Manning essentially reduced passing a football to an exact science, it's still just a hobby for Bray. He tends to keep his life uncomplicated.

"I still don't know if he knows what coverage the other team plays," Dooley said. "It drives (quarterbacks) Coach (Darin) Hinshaw crazy, but it doesn't bother me at all. He just sees an open guy or a covered guy and knows where to place the ball. I'm good with that. I think we can over-coach things sometimes."

Typically low-key, Bray described his starting debut as "OK," noting that he "felt a little slow with my footwork." He also described his pocket presence as "OK," adding that "There's been times I felt I could've moved a different way to avoid a sack."

At 6-6 and 210 pounds, Bray appears thin and frail. Vol coaches want him to add bulk so he can take a pounding. His preference would be to avoid a pounding.

"I just try to avoid those big linemen because they're twice the size I am," he said, flashing a soft grin. "The more that I avoid them and the less I'm on my back, the better."

Dooley benched junior QB Matt Simms after he lost two fumbles on sacks in the first three quarters of the South Carolina game. Simms is actually more mobile than Bray but Bray has the edge in pocket presence. He seems to sense when pressure is coming and drift out of harm's way.

"I think he's just an instinctive thrower," Dooley said. "He has a good feel for the rush and where the breakdowns are starting to occur. He has an ability to get rid of it quickly, which you need to have when you play quarterback to avoid negative plays. And I think he's got a good feel for where to place the ball."

Tennessee's head coach seems to have a good feel for where to place the ball, as well. For the time being, he has placed it in the hands of talented freshman Tyler Bray.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories