The irony is that Tyler Bray actually was bucking his own preferences in an effort, he thought, to be a coachable, team player.
So Bray admits he wasn't focusing too intently on the play-calls before launching a drop-kick last week against Missouri in the third quarter. Fourth-and-7 near the Tigers' 40-yard line? Bray didn't think running an offensive play was on the table.
Head coach Derek Dooley doesn't think Bray ever views punting as an option.
"Just wasn't really paying attention. Didn't think we were going to go for it on fourth-and-7," Bray said. "Yeah that's how I was in high school [always preferring to not punt]. I was the punter so I was always like 'We're going for it. Because I'm the punter, and I'm not going to punt the ball. We're going to throw it.'
"So I'm just trying to get used to having game management. He's got the game management down; that's why he's the head coach. I'm just a player trying to score points."
Bray is in the midst of his grandest statistical three-game stretch, completing passes and scoring points at an electrifying pace. The 6-foot-6, 220-pound junior from Kingsburg, Calif., has more than 1,300 passing yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception across the Vols' last three games. His 3,216 yards and 29 touchdowns this season place him among the top-four career passers all-time at Tennessee.
Bray, however, isn't engaging in the chatter about his improving play leading to improving NFL draft stock. Not with Tennessee (4-6, 0-6) losing two of those three games and seeking to avoid its first back-to-back seasons without a bowl in more than 30 years.
"No, if we would've went three-and-0 it would have been better. As far as stats-wise, I threw for 530 yards. That's probably anybody's best game," Bray said. "I could care less [about being viewed as an NFL prospect]. That's what you guys are paid to write about and talk about. I'm paid to win football games."
"Well, my education. That's what the SEC likes to call getting paid," Bray added.
While Bray isn't assessing his NFL options, wideouts Cordarrelle Patterson and Zach Rogers vouch for them.
"Yeah, absolutely. You can see it every week. He comes out and improves a little more each week and that's what we've got to have from our leader and our quarterback. He's making a good push right now," Rogers said. "But at the same time we can't be focused too much on that right now. We've got to be focused on these last two games right now.
"He's just being more of a leader. He realizes that he had a tough stretch just like we all did through October. We don't want to finish like that at all, and we know the taste in our mouths from last year and not going to a bowl game. So that's really entered his mind that he doesn't want that to happen again."
Like Bray, Patterson points to the quarterback's practice efforts as key in the late-season surge.
"I believe so, Tyler he's just going out there and getting that mindset and he's just getting the ball to you any way he needs to get it," said Patterson, who is threatening UT's single-season all-purpose yardage mark in his first year out of junior college. "Being a leader, just being out there just running things out there and making us a better offense.
"(Bray)'s just been that leader, just telling us what we need to do and making sure we're going fast and keep our fast-pace offense going right."
FOUR DIGITS WOULD BE BIG FOR HUNTER
Junior wide receiver Justin Hunter isn't big about stats, but with 21 more yards receiving, Hunter would become just the eighth receiver in school history to join the thousand-yard mark. It's a feat that the Virginia native admits he's thought about.
"It would mean a lot. I have never had a 1,000-yard season in my life. I don't think I have ever had a 900-yard season. It would mean a lot to have 1,000 yards," Hunter said. "That was one of my first goals to accomplish. It would mean a lot for me to get it coming back from the injury."
In addition to 1,000 yards, Hunter only needs 12 catches to set the all-time single-season mark in receptions with 77.
MID-STATE, MAJOR RIVALRY
While several factors have spiced up the Tennessee-Vanderbilt rivalry in recent years, this year's contest might be the most anticipated between the two in-state foes in many years.
And with Tennessee boasting a number of Nashville-area starters and contributors, much is on the line this weekend when the Vols visit Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday at 7 p.m.
"They're very confident in what they're doing right now," senior wideout Zach Rogers, who starred in football and track at Nashville's David Lipscomb High School, said. "They're playing some great football right now and they're going to be a good test for us. But it's still Tennessee-Vandy. It's a big rivalry. We'll all be juiced up.
"They're very hyped about what they do right now and we've got to take it to them regardless of how they're feeling. So it will be a good test for us. It will be a fun game."
Added fellow metro-Nashville native Alex Bullard, Obviously this is a big rivalry. Vanderbilt, they want to beat us really bad. We have to approach this as another game. We can't get caught up in the hype of the rivalry. We just have to go out there and play because we need to win this game. They stand in our way of getting to a bowl game, and that's what we want to do is get to a bowl game. So we have to beat them.
"We want to represent Tennessee. We just want to represent Tennessee and we're going to go and play Vanderbilt to the best of our ability. I know I have friends on the Vanderbilt team and that will be fun competing with them. We chose to come to Tennessee and that's who we're going to represent."
Bullard noted he has multiple friends on the 'Dores' roster, while Rogers estimated he needed 20 tickets for this weekend's bout.
Vanderbilt is seeking its first winning record in SEC play since 1935 while the Vols are trying to avoid their fourth losing season in five years.
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