When Kellen Moore had great success against Georgia's defense, I saw a lot of people using terms like "clinical" to describe the performance. The same vocabulary could easily apply to what Tyler Bray has done to opposing defenses so far in 2011.
Bray has completed 51 of 65 passes (78.4%) with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. His passing efficiency of 204.2 is fifth in the country and would easily be a record if he still has it when the season ends (he won't, but that's just some perspective). He's been sacked just twice, and overall, he's made a lot of good decisions with the football so far this year.
Of course, Bray has the enviable luxury of throwing to Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. The two sophomore receivers have come of age as expected, combining for 31 catches and 502 yards (16.2 average) on the young season. That's not taking anything away from Bray; it just goes to show the strength of the core of Tennessee offense.
The question heading into the big game at Florida this weekend is this: are they enough to beat the Gators? Hunter and Rogers are great, but the rest of the team has combined for 21 catches for 214 yards (10.2 average). The next highest guy is tight end Mychal Rivera, with six catches. It's setting up for a season like last year when Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones were by far the most targeted receivers with only tight end Luke Stocker in their neighborhood. Tennessee has lined up RB Tauren Poole at receiver, which has worked well enough to the tune of three catches for 30 yards. However when you're lining up a pure running back at receiver, no matter how good his hands are, it means you're short on reliable receivers.
Poole has not been as effective as you'd like to see him given that he's faced Montana and an undersized Cincinnati defense. That's especially so when the offensive line has given Bray all day to throw. Perhaps the line is just better at pass blocking than run blocking, but either way, it's going to get its biggest test by far this Saturday. Florida's defensive line has looked much improved already, and it gets Sharrif Floyd back from NCAA ineligibility this weekend.
Tennessee's defense will give up some points this weekend. It hasn't been completely consistent yet, enduring some breakdowns against both Montana and Cincy, and Florida's offense appears to actually have organization this year.
The Bray-Hunter-Rogers trio looks better than the Simms-Moore
-Jones combo did going into last year's Florida-Tennessee game. Unbelievably, this will be Bray's first start outside the state of Tennessee (all of his starts have come at home, at Memphis, at Vanderbilt, and in the Music City Bowl), though I doubt that will be much of a factor for the native Californian. What will be more of a factor is the fact that Florida starts two true freshman in the secondary. That should open up some opportunities.
Those three guys will need to continue their high level of play for Tennessee to get its first statement win of 2011.