September 4, 2012
Bray's poise, execution keys third-down revival
Tyler Bray made it sound as simple as playing pitch and catch. Derek Dooley pointed to his quarterback's maturity.
Either way, Tennessee's ability Friday night to bounce back from its third-down struggles in the first half to convert six of 10 in the second half was a huge factor in the Vols' win and something they hope to build on moving forward. Tennessee hosts Georgia State (0-1) Saturday at 4 p.m. inside Neyland Stadium in the home opener.
"Just execution. Missed a couple that I wish I had back," Bray said. "But we did what our goal was and coach (Jim) Chaney's happy with it."
After the Vols converted just three of nine first-half attempts on third down, they were much more effective as they pulled away from N.C. State in a 35-21 season-opening win. Dooley said what he saw from Bray in those final two quarters were the exact same things Bray had displayed throughout pre-season camp.
"I just think that the poise that he demonstrated all through camp and throughout the offseason paid off in the game," Dooley said. "You never saw Tyler get frustrated or affected, like maybe you saw it last season or the year before when you're young. I just think maybe it's his level of growth, maturity, experience. He just kept playing."
Specifically, Bray kept completing third-down passes. In all, Bray completed his final eight tosses on third down and while a couple of those didn't move the chains, they still allowed Tennessee's offense to work into more manageable situations.
"The line blocked and the guys caught the ball," Bray said.
Left tackle Antonio 'Tiny' Richardson also said the third-down success highlighted the Vols' growing resolve. Tennessee's nine third-down conversions in the game tied the fifth-best number for any offense in the nation during the opening weekend. Ohio converted 13 third downs in its upset of Penn State while a handful of teams notched a dozen conversions.
"Just regrouping and showing maturity," said Richardson, who also worked out early-game jitters from his first start and settled down in the second half. "Last year during those moments we kind of fell apart. We just can't get complacent. We've got to keep on building. We can't start to just dumb down. We've got to keep on building on that."
If the Vols can continue their success through the air and build on their ground game, tailback Marlin Lane said, then more third-down success should follow.
"I think we capitalized on that a lot Friday because (the Wolfpack) were more worried about the run game and then at the same time when they put a lot in the box on the run game we hit them with a bomb," said Lane, the Vols' third tailback into the game but their leading rusher. "So they didn't really know what was to come on third downs and I feel that they played a little off on the receivers and a little safe in the middle. So that gave us a lot of opportunities to get our plays on third down."
After a couple of early penalties and some time to mentally regroup, Richardson felt he progressed throughout the Vols' opener and can build on his experience from his first career start at left tackle.
"On film I was about a 'B.' There were a lot of mental errors that I should have corrected. Really it was more of just a different environment and my mind was just a blur," Richardson said. "Sometimes when you are in that environment, your assignments just go out of your head and you just start playing. Sometimes I just played, and just played and didn't think about what I was doing and who I was committed to."
Dooley said the coaches had expected some jitters from Richardson but touted the long-term potential of the Nashville native and former U.S. Army All-American.
"Well, he jumped offsides the first play. Which we had a bet that he would. Nobody bet on 'Tiny' not jumping offsides," Dooley cracked following Tuesday's practice. "We tried to call a play that was just the simplest, let him flat-back somebody and it didn't matter. He was juiced up. He made a lot of first-game mistakes, made a ton of them, but he's going to be a good player."
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