KNOXVILLE — Defenses better than Montana’s and Cincinnati’s are going to come up short against Tennessee.
The tall sophomore trio of quarterback Tyler Bray and wideouts Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers made it a long day for another defense Saturday in Neyland Stadium. Cincinnati’s defense looked like a scout team in the 45-23 victory.
Bray passed for a career-high 405 yards — the most by a Vol since Peyton Manning passed for 523 against another basketball school, Kentucky, in 1997 — and Hunter and Rogers tallied 100-yard receiving games for the second straight week. It marked the first time Wide Receiver U. has achieved that feat.
Hunter might’ve been his most impressive catching a simple eight-yard out with outstretched arms and strong hands while Wesley Richardson was draped across his back. Rogers caught a ball thrown behind him in the end zone between two Bearcats — one of Bray’s few throws that wasn’t precise — and held on despite having his helmet being launched across the turf.
“Nothing surprises me any more from those two guys,” Bray said. “They’re great receivers.”
And they have the big arm to utilize their skills. Bray makes extremely long throws to the wide side of the field look effortless, as he did once apiece to Hunter and Rogers on the Vols’ opening drive for a touchdown Saturday.
He led receivers on finesse routes in the flats, zipped a couple of spirals through tight windows and stretched the field with his arm as much as Hunter and Rogers can with their legs.
His release isn’t Dan Marino, Dan Fouts or Joe Namath, but he gets throws off quickly.
UT coach Derek Dooley qualified the awe of his home run connection by mentioning the opposing pitching these first two weeks, but was still inspired enough for praise.
“I’ve never had three of them like this, this young,” Dooley said. “I hope they keep doing what they are doing. The tests are going to get harder, but it is good to see where they are. That’s two pretty good games by a quarterback and two really good games by those two wideouts.”
Bray was 34 of 41 for an 82.9 percent completion rate — a UT single-game record for quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts. Manning had the old mark — 31 of 40 (77.5 percent) against Georgia in 1997.
Bray has also thrown at least two TD passes in eight straight game, breaking Manning’s record.
And Bray found targets other than Rogers and Hunter. Tight end Mychal Rivera had career highs in catches (six) and receiving yards (54).
Dooley joked that those throws came when Hunter and Rogers needed to catch their breath.
“Bray is playing at a high-level right now,” Rogers said. “His confidence is at an all-time high.”
The same can be said for Roges and Hunter. The biggest smile the high-leaping 6-foot-4 Hunter flashed after the game came when asked about his blocked field goal on the last play of the first half.
“I had a feeling I was going to block it,” Hunter said. “I nipped it with my fingers.”
Hunter should’ve tried to catch the ball. It wouldn’t have surprised Cincinnati.