KNOXVILLE — Austin Johnson has a message for the folks who have low expectations for the Tennessee football team in the 2010 season.
Bring it on.
“That’s kind of always our mentality, to prove people wrong,” Johnson said following Saturday’s Orange and White game. “People might not think that we’re going to be anything, but this team has really come together and really bought in and everyone respects and trusts in everyone on the team. We have a real good team unity.”
It was a team divided on Saturday, when the Volunteers split into Orange and White units for the glorified scrimmage that concludes spring practice.
The White team emerged with a 16-7 victory and, in the process, Tyler Bray might have proven wrong the notion that he can’t win the job of starting quarterback. Bray technically should be in his final semester of high school in California. Instead, he enrolled early at Tennessee.
Bray completed 18 of 40 passes for 200 yards, a performance highlighted by a hurry-up scoring drive at the end of the first half that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown to Denarius Moore.
“I have seen Tyler Bray grow up this whole spring,” defensive end Chris Walker said. “Just seeing the progress he has made and seeing some of the throws he made today — and he is a freshman who should be in high school going to his prom right now — was really encouraging.”
Junior-college transfer Matt Simms threw for 125 yards on 12-of-26 passing and fired a 6-yard scoring strike to Gerald Jones. However, he also threw three interceptions.
Simms and Bray, both wearing green non-contact jerseys, were “sacked” seven total times.
“Matt and Tyler are very different in the things they do well,” first-year coach Derek Dooley said. “It’s hard to really shape and game plan to fit their strengths. That’s why you don’t want to put too much on this game.
“You do see some physical skills, and a couple of decisions were disappointing, and we’ve got to get better at that. That doesn’t have anything to do with the game plan.”
To be sure, the playbook was limited for the spring game. Nevertheless, several individuals rose to the occasion.
Tauren Poole ran for 43 yards and grabbed three passes for 58 yards, including a nifty 33-yard catch- and-run after Bray escaped.
“I just wanted to come out here and work as hard as I could and hopefully get that starting role,” Poole said. “Right now I am, but I’ve just got a lot of work to do in the offseason to continuously get ready to be an SEC back.”
Jones made six catches for 84 yards, highlighted by a leaping 33-yard reception. Freshman Matt Milton, like Bray an early enrollee, had six catches for 47 yards.
Herman Lathers led the defenders with nine tackles. Anthony Anderson had seven and was one of three Vols to pick off Simms, along with Darren Myles Jr. and Stephaun Raines. And Chip Rhome, a transfer from Austin Peay, made three field goals and booted a 57-yard kickoff.
The team’s conditioning program will begin Monday.
“I think we are more together as a team because we went through so much adversity,” said safety Janzen Jackson. “Coach Dooley has done a great job bringing us together and I think we’ll be a family and UT will be back this year.”