Bray proves mortal

The full moon visible above Dudley Field Saturday night didn't turn any mortals into werewolves but it seemed to turn Tennessee freshman Tyler Bray into a mere mortal.

The strong-armed rookie was being touted as something of a superhero after passing for 648 yards and eight touchdowns with zero interceptions in Games 9 and 10. Bray looked quite mortal in Game 11 at Vanderbilt, however. He completed 16 of 27 passes for 232 yards and a couple of touchdowns but threw two costly interceptions. Those picks caused a Vol team coming off blowouts of Memphis (50-14) and Ole Miss (52-14) to settle for a modest 24-10 victory.

Even the scant 14-point margin is deceptive. Tennessee led just 17-10 until Tauren Poole broke a fourth-and-two play for a 28-yard touchdown run with 1:22 remaining.

Perhaps the Vols were overconfident after outscoring their previous two foes by a combined 102-28 margin. They had numerous opportunities to blow the game open but routinely stopped themselves with mistakes.


Up 7-0 in the second quarter, Tennessee blew a promising drive when David Oku was stopped cold on third-and-one at the Vandy 45-yard line.

Tennessee scored on its next possession to go up 14-0 and appeared ready to take control of the game when the opening play of Vanderbilt's ensuring possession saw Prentiss Waggner intercept at the Commodore 30-yard line.

Bray squandered the scoring opportunity, however, with a third-and-12 overthrow that was intercepted at the goal line. That snapped a string of 96 passes without an interception, dating to the pick-six he surrendered on his first attempt in Game 8 at South Carolina.

Vanderbilt took advantage of the miscue, driving 63 yards and getting a 31-yard Ryan Fowler field goal on the final play of the half to whittle the deficit to 14-3.

As mistake-prone as Tennessee's first half was, things were about to get even worse.

The Vol defense forced a three-and-out on Vandy's first possession of the second half but Anthony Anderson fumbled the punt, with the Dores recovering at Tennessee's 21-yard line. Incredibly, Anderson's bobble was the seventh punt UT has mishandled this season.

Vol end Gerald Williams intercepted an awful pass by Vandy quarterback Larry Smith and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown ... only to have the play nullified by a roughing-the-quarterback penalty against Tennessee tackle Malik Jackson.

Fortunately, the opponent was Vanderbilt, and the Commodores couldn't capitalize. Fowler wound up trying a 26-yard field goal that bounded off the left upright, leaving the Big Orange on top 14-3.

The Vols returned the favor two plays later, however, with Bray throwing another poor pass. This one was intercepted by Kenny Ladler at Vanderbilt's 47-yard line.

Vandy being Vandy, however, the Dores wound up settling for another field-goal try. This one was blocked by Gerald Williams - the full moon apparently turned him into some sort of beast - to thwart the threat.

Tennessee took over near midfield but two false start penalties killed the scoring opportunity, and the third quarter ended with the Vols still clinging to their 11-point lead.

The Big Orange advanced to Vanderbilt's 11-yard line early in the fourth quarter but Bray threw a little behind Poole on third down, and Tennessee settled for a 28-yard Daniel Lincoln field goal and a 17-3 lead with 12:57 to go.

Again showing why it is 2-9 this season, Vanderbilt had a 25-yard touchdown pass nullified because the recipient, Jordan Matthews, stepped out of bounds while running his route. Two plays later safety Janzen Jackson saved the Vols' bacon by intercepting and returning the ball 42 yards.

Typical of this night, Tennessee's chance to put the game on ice was foiled by a holding penalty. Given yet another reprieve, Vandy closed to 17-10 with 2:33 left when backup QB Jared Funk completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Matthews, who managed to run his route without stepping out of bounds this time.

The Commodores failed to recover an on-sides kick at this point, and Poole finally sealed the deal with his 28-yard TD run four plays later.

Clearly, Tennessee's youth showed on this night. The Vols will not win many games when they give up three turnovers and incur nine penalties. They will not win many games when they manage just 118 yards of total offense after intermission.

But they won this one. And they'll be bowl eligible at 6-6 if they win again next Saturday against Kentucky. Given that they were 2-6 and painful to watch just three weeks ago, that's probably cause for celebration.

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