"There's a lot of reasons he wasn't on, and it starts with him," head coach Derek Dooley said. "I think he went in a little bit (over)confident, feeling good about the matchups. When you're not on edge, you're never going to perform. And there were some serious mismatches in (pass) protection that I think affected him early."
With the Orange's high-profile aerial assault repeatedly missing the target, the ground-oriented White squad posted a surprising 24-7 victory before an announced crowd of 29.451.
The offensively blessed Orange had a simple game plan: Get towering receivers Justin Hunter (6-4) and Matt Milton (6-5) matched up one-on-one with freshman cornerback Justin Coleman. It was a good plan; it just didn't work. Coleman stopped Hunter on back-to-back fade routes from the 20-yard line in the second quarter and helped limit him to one catch for 16 yards. Milton managed two grabs for 45 yards.
"Justin got a little frustrated out there," Dooley said, adding that Hunter "has got to improve his strength levels. That's a serious part of his game that's got to get better so he doesn't get pushed around out there. And Matt (Milton) has still got a long way to go."
Da' Rick Rogers caught just two balls for 29 yards for the White but drew special praise from Dooley for his spring.
"Da'Rick probably made the most progress from where he was at the end of the season to where he is now," Dooley said.
While Bray struggled, White quarterback Matt Simms thrived. He opened the game by handing off six consecutive times. Four of these went to tailback Toney Williams, who gashed the Orange defense for gains of 9, 10, 7 and 8 yards. Then, with the Orange looking for the run, Simms found Rajion Neal out of the backfield on a wheel route for a 43-yard touchdown. A 27-yard end-around by Da'Rick Rogers set up a 27-yard Derrick Brodus field goal as the White eased ahead 10-0.
The Orange closed to 10-7 on the 54-yard Bray-Rivera hookup but White coach Jim Chaney broke the game open with a bit of fourth-quarter trickery. A throwback pass from Williams to Simms gained 18 yards and Simms scored on a two-yard plunge moments later for a 17-7 lead. Simms finished 6 of 13 for 93 yards, with a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown.
Simms' strong showing did not surprise Dooley, who noted: "I kept saying, 'We're going to need him. At some point next year he's going to have to go in and win us a ball game.'"
Tennessee's rushers enjoyed productive days. Poole finished with 60 yards on just nine carries. Neal added 56 on 12 carries and Williams 53 yards on 10 rushes. All ran north-south and broke some tackles.
"You all saw some things about Tauren today," Dooley said. "He's solid. Rajion's doing a little bit better."
The head man quipped that Williams' strong running between the tackles could be attributed to having fresh legs after missing most of spring practice with hamstring problems.
Asked to pinpoint the most encouraging aspect of spring practice, Dooley replied: "I think, from where we were a year ago to where we are now, the development of the offensive line has probably been the most consistent (positive).
"We feel like we've got some big, strong, athletic and talented players there. This time last year we didn't have an offensive line. We had a line that had three starts - all by Jarrod Shaw - and they benched him."
Although four of five starters are back from the 2010 line, three are sophomores and one is a junior. As a result, there are still growing pains to be endured.
"We've made a lot of progress there but we're not where we need to be," Dooley said. "We've got enough bodies; let's develop 'em. We're getting there on the offensive line."