Cincinnati returned 11 starters on defense this season, including 10 juniors and seniors, but Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers made them look sophomoric.
Tennessee’s talented sophomore trio of quarterback and receivers looked like men against boys while generating 405 yards passing on a record-setting day.
However, second-year UT coach Derek Dooley was trying to keep his young offense from getting swamped in adulation with a trip to Florida looming Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS).
“This is two games and it’s a long season now, and we’ve got to get ready next week, alright, because these suckers are good and they do a lot of stuff,” Dooley said. “So before we start patting ourselves on the back a little bit, let’s just feel good about the win and go see if we can keep up with these guys next week.”
Actually, Florida’s defense, which is employing its third coordinator in as many years, shouldn’t be confused with LSU or Alabama these days. Defensive back Janoris Jenkins was kicked off the team in the offseason and the Gators secondary is suspect. They’re starting a true freshman at cornerback and a true freshman at safety, and the other two starting defensive backs are sophomores.
Bray will have to deal with crowd noise and, most likely, some pressure in the pocket for the first time this season. He had all day to throw against Cincinnati – not that he usually needed it with Hunter and Rogers losing the Bearcats defensive backs.
“The O-line’s blocking pretty well now in pass protection, and they deserve a little credit, too,” Dooley said. “They’re doing a real good job of giving Tyler time back there.”
One concern is left tackle Dallas Thomas. He sprained his knee on a PAT. Dooley expects him to be okay, but he’ll need to be 100 percent with the Gators’ speed on the edge.
Florida has allowed only three points in two games, but playing FAU and UAB seems more like preparation for Scrabble than training for Tennessee. Of course, the Vols enter SEC play having dined on a cupcake or two as well.
But the passing game looked so dynamic against an experienced Big East defense that it was impossible to discount the numbers, and the Vol Nation wasn’t.
Numerous UT fans on the call-in radio shows were saying Tyler Bray is better than Peyton Manning at the same point in his career. Granted, Bray’s a little taller and has a stronger arm, but come on – Cincinnati hasn’t had such a zany effect on radio airwaves since Les Nessman.
Bray undoubtedly will have a long and prosperous career, but at this point he’s more gunslinger than surgeon. He’s rarely operated against even a decent defense and usually goes to his primary receiver. Manning seemed to survey defenses while walking to the line of scrimmage as a sophomore as if he was a 10-year pro.
Of course, Bray’s initial read is often open when Hunter or Rogers are the primary route, and Bray isn’t scared to let them go up and make a play even when they haven’t separated considerably.
“It’s not rocket science,” Dooley said. “(Bray) can throw it and those two big guys can go down the field and catch it, so that’s what we’re going to do until they stop it.”
Notes: The fans aren’t the only heads Tennessee’s turning – assuming sports writers aren’t fans. One voter had Tennessee ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll Sunday. Tennessee is No. 32 in the USA Today coaches’ poll and 35th in the writers’ poll. … Tight end Brendan Downs, a Tennessee High graduate, had two catches for 32 yards against Cincinnati. … Charlie Weis is in his first year as Florida’s offensive coordinator. First-year Gators coach Will Muschamp worked with Dooley at LSU (2001-04) and with the Miami Dolphins (2005). … UT defensive lineman Ben Martin (ankle) left Saturday’s game early and didn’t return. … Florida opened Sunday as an 8 1/2-point favorite.