Tennessee 45 Cincinnati 23 - There's A Stirring

Okay.

We've spent two weeks talking about how we haven't really learned anything about this team yet.  After today, here's what we know.

Tyler Bray hasn't just passed Level One, he's mastered it.  Level Two is coming in seven days, and we'll get to that.  But first, let's appreciate what we just saw.

34 completions is sixth all-time at UT.  405 yards is fourth all-time, making him the first non-Manning to throw for 400+ at UT.  By throwing multiple touchdown passes in his eighth (read:  every start) straight game, he broke a Manning record.  Tennessee's media guide only lists Tee Martin's unapproachable 95.8% completion percentage record from the 1998 South Carolina game.  But I figure Bray's 82.9% number from today is, you know, up there.  Remember 5 for 30 in the Orange & White Game?  Me neither.  Remember when last week was the greatest game of his young Vol career?  We'd better start making that statement in pencil.

Cincinnati, like every other team Bray has faced as a starter, does not have a good defense.  But to do what he did today against any defense was beyond impressive.  Several of our preseason questions about Tyler Bray were answered today.  The most important ones will come next week.

Here's what else we know:  it helps when you're throwing to the best one-two punch at wide receiver we've had in ten years.

This isn't 2007, when David Cutcliffe and Trooper Taylor turned Lucas Taylor and Austin Rogers into serious threats.  That duo became the first Vol pair to each pull in 100 yards in a single game.  Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter became the second last week.  Then they did it again today.

So if you're scoring at home, that's two starts for our sophomore pair, two 100+ yard games, and a school record.  Tyler Bray is an equal opportunity provider:  10 catches for each tonight.  How much longer do we refer to any of these three as "young"?  They're about to become men.  Next week.

Here's what else I hope I know:  that was a good offense we beat today.

I was really impressed with Isaiah Pead (14 carries, 155 yards).  The Bearcats got 396 yards, but Tennessee did the two things it will have to do all year to win games like this:  make the stops that count, and win time of possession.

It wasn't just that the Vols turned Cincinnati away twice on 4th and 1, which was very encouraging on its own.  But it was when it happened:  after the initial 14-14 punch/counterpunch, with Tennessee still swinging away but the Bearcats were unable to answer.  Those two stops allowed Tennessee the breathing room they needed.

From there, time of possession became huge, and though the Vols are clearly a big play offense, they also dictated the game to Cincinnati today in a huge way.  Thirty-four first downs (!).  10 of 13 on third down (!!!).  And the scoring drives?  Seven plays, five plays, seven plays, nine plays, ten plays, eleven plays, ten plays.

We punted once.

We're Tennessee, and they were Cincinnati.  We can't and won't hang our hat on what we do against Big East teams, even ones that I hope turn into really good Big East teams.  But even if we hadn't been through the last three years and all of that stuff...today was an offensive masterpiece.  And it should be appreciated as such.

Now...deep breaths.

The first three callers on one of the Vol Network postgame shows went like this:

  • Tyler Bray is better than Peyton Manning
  • No really, Bray is better than Manning
  • Marlin Lane is the next Jamal Lewis
We haven't done ANYTHING yet.  Tyler Bray has ten years, an SEC Championship and a Super Bowl ring to get before he's Manning.  Marlin Lane had eight carries for sixteen yards.  Again, this isn't about getting back, and it's not about how quickly we can compare these guys to our all-time greats.  We haven't done anything yet.

But in seven days, you'd better believe we can.

Tauren Poole got 101 yards, but we still have issues in the run game.  Dallas Thomas goes for an MRI in the morning that could show something that sidelines him.  Our secondary is still trying to find the right combinations, and man we tried a bunch today.  Our true freshmen linebackers will play a whole lot more against Florida.

And we still haven't seen Tyler Bray against a good defense.

But for the first time in five years, Tennessee is 2-0.

And for the first time in five years, Tennessee will face the Gators with all of us believing one truth:

The Vols can win.
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