Throughout his career Tennessee's No. 1 quarterback has been dogged by one question whenever he posted imposing numbers: Who did you do it against?
The question was understandable. Bray routinely put up mind-boggling stats against lesser teams, then mediocre numbers against quality teams. As noted on this site last week his career stats against non-SEC teams showed 305 passing yards per game, a 30-5 touchdown/interception ratio and a 68.1 completion percentage. Conversely, his stats against league teams featured 214 passing yards per game, a 21-20 TD/interception ratio and a mere 51.6 completion percentage.
Eight games into his junior season, Bray finally proved his mettle against a first-rate defense. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium he scorched No. 17 South Carolina for 27 completions in 43 attempts for 368 yards and four touchdowns.
The 62.8 completion percentage versus Carolina marked the first time he has hit the 60 mark as a starting QB against an SEC defense (he completed 60 percent as a backup against SC in 2010). The 368 yards represented only the second time Bray has cracked the 300 barrier against a conference foe. The previous occasion saw him throw for 354 against a pitiful Kentucky team back in 2010.
Having thrown for 6,114 yards in his career, Bray has supplanted Jeff Francis (5,867) to become the fifth-most productive passer in Tennessee history. With 284 yards versus Troy this Saturday he will surpass Vol Network analyst Andy Kelly, who holds fourth place after throwing for 6,397 career yards from 1988-1991.
Bray's fourth 300-yard passing effort of the season gives him 10 for his career. He leads all active SEC quarterbacks in that category. Bray's four TD passes marked the seventh time in his career and third time this season he has achieved that level.
FROM Z-RO TO HERO
Zach Rogers, known among teammates as Z-Ro, gave his best performance as a Volunteer Saturday at South Carolina. The senior wideout from Nashville caught six passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns.
The six receptions tied Rogers' career high. The 107 yards surpassed his previous best of 87, set in the 2012 opener versus North Carolina State. The three TDs nearly matched his career total (4) through his first 42 games at Tennessee.
With scoring grabs of eight, 37 and 22 yards, Rogers has become just the ninth player in program history to catch three touchdown passes in a game. The most recent to do so was Chris Hannon in 2003 against Mississippi State.
Interestingly enough, all five of Z-Ro's touchdown receptions this fall have occurred out of state. He caught one in Atlanta against North Carolina State, one in Athens against Georgia and three in Columbia against South Carolina.
Another Vol wideout who greatly enhanced his career numbers was sophomore Vincent Dallas. After posting just 62 receiving yards through his first 1 1/2 seasons on The Hill, he nearly matched that number with a 61-yard third-quarter TD reception on Saturday. Counting a couple of second-quarter grabs, he finished the afternoon with three catches for 78 yards.
IT SHALL COME TO PASS
Tennessee fans may not like the Vols' pass defense but opposing quarterbacks are loving it.
South Carolina's Connor Shaw threw for 356 yards on Saturday, becoming the fourth SEC quarterback this year to post a season-best passing performance against the Vols.
Florida's Jeff Driskel went 14 of 20 for a season-high 219 yards in Game 3, Mississippi State's Tyler Russell went 23 of 37 for a season-high 291 yards in Game 6, Alabama's A.J. McCarron went 17 of 22 for a season-high 306 yards in Game 7 and Shaw padded his stats in Game 8.
The only quarterback who has beaten Tennessee without posting season-high passing yards this fall is Georgia's Aaron Murray, and the Vols didn't exactly shut him down. He completed 20 of 26 attempts for 286 yards. Murray might have had a bigger day if his ground game hadn't been clicking. Keith Marshall had runs of 75 and 72 yards that day, while Todd Gurley added a 51-yard burst for the Dawgs.
Counting Murray, the five QBs mentioned above have thrown 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions against the Vols this fall. McCarron threw four TD passes, Shaw three and the others two each.
'PIG' HOGS THE SPOTLIGHT
Vol freshman Alton "Pig" Howard shocked South Carolina's defense — and most of the Big Orange Nation — by tossing a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mychal Rivera on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Howard, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound speedster, played wide receiver and some running back as a high schooler back in Orlando, Fla. Heading into the fourth period of the Carolina game he had carried the ball nine times for 37 yards as a Vol and had caught seven passes for 40 yards. Although Pig had lined up as a shotgun quarterback in the wildcat package previously, he had never thrown out of the formation.
YOU DON'T KNOW JACK
Sophomore linebacker Jordan Williams earned the first start of his career at the JACK position, becoming the fourth Vol to start at the position this fall.
Jacques Smith started Tennessee's first three games at JACK. Steven Fowlkes started Game 4 and Marlon Walls started Game 5. Smith reclaimed the first-team job for Game 6 at Mississippi State. The Vols elected to open with five defensive backs and no JACK in Game 7 versus Alabama, then started Williams in Game 8.
Junior Alex Bullard made his second start of the season but first in the offensive line versus South Carolina. Bullard opened at right guard in place of injured Zach Fulton (ankle). Bullard, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound junior, started Game 7 against Alabama at tight end.
NOW IT'S JUST ANOTHER DAY
Saturday's loss at South Carolina marked the first time in history that Tennessee has dropped a football game on Oct. 27. The Vols were 11-0 previously.
Oddly enough, the two most recent wins on that day came at the expense of the Gamecocks. Tennessee beat a 15th-ranked Carolina team 27-24 in overtime in 2007 and defeated a 12th-ranked SC team 17-10 in 2001.
HUNTER'S ON FAST PACE
With eight receptions for 90 yards on Saturday, junior wide receiver Justin Hunter now has 47 catches through the first eight games of 2012. Only two Vols have caught more balls through the first eight games of a season — Marcus Nash (53) in 1997 and Joey Kent (52) in 1996. Kelley Washington (46) had the fourth-fastest start in 2001 and Cedrick Wilson (45) posted the fifth-fastest start in 1999.
ANOTHER BIG DAY FOR A.J.
Thanks to 11 stops against South Carolina, sophomore linebacker A.J. Johnson has recorded double-digit tackles in each of the last six games. He had 11 each versus Florida, Akron and Georgia in Games 2, 3 and 4, respectively, posted a career-high 21 stops at Mississippi State in Game 6, then added 14 in Game 7 versus Alabama.
UGLY NUMBER OF THE WEEK
Counting Saturday's loss to South Carolina, Derek Dooley now stands 0-18 as Tennessee's coach when his team trails entering the fourth quarter.