With Tennessee just 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the SEC, the season is coming to a dreary close, but the team still has hope as it enters Memphis Saturday.
The Tigers aren't exactly putting pressure on the Vols with their lackadaisical performance this season, but the Vols face plenty of challenges of their own. The quarterback situation has been back and forth this year, but coaches have officially decided to start true freshman Tyler Bray, and quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw felt that he was ready for the task.
"I do know that Tyler has done a good job and worked hard," Hinshaw said. "So has Matt. Matt's worked really hard and put a lot of time in. Whoever is in there has got to perform and play hard, and the team's got to be behind whoever's in there."
The quarterback situation would seem to be a problem, with competition between two players on the same team, but the coaches believed that this will spur the quarterbacks to perform to the best of their abilities. Hinshaw said that, though Bray will be starting this game, both athletes need to be ready to play and try their hardest.
"Competition, I think, is always good," Hinshaw said. "Competing and going out there and working hard is always something that you want. If the competition is good and both of them again, talking to them about, 'You're one snap away from being in there, and you've got to be mentally ready to play, whether it's before the game or whether it's during the game,' so that's what I've been talking to them about, and both of them are ready to play."
While junior transfer Matt Simms has been starting for the majority of the season, Bray has gotten some quality playing time and used it to show that he's ready to compete. Starting with a few bad plays, Bray has kept his head in the game and continued to impress his coaches, but offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said that both quarterbacks are equally prepared to play.
"They're doing good," Chaney said. "They're competing hard, and it will be interesting to see them play on Saturday. I think everything is like status quo, just seems like we keep right on moving in the offense, so we'll see what happens."
The team as a whole is preparing and working hard, regardless of whom they're competing against, working on getting ready for whatever challenges may arise.
"It's just about practicing," Chaney said. "Practicing what you're going to do over and over again and putting the right players in the right positions so they feel a little more comfortable."
The team will face challenges this weekend, but with the new quarterback situation and with the efforts of the coaching staff and team, Chaney hoped to see results. With wide receiver Gerald Jones coming back from a broken right hand, his effect on the team is evident.
"You could see how much we missed him when he wasn't on the field," Chaney said. "Him coming back opens up a lot of plays for us. He's wise, he's a good player, he's been around a long time, he knows how to play the game (and) he's helping these young kids as they grow into their spots. We're real pleased with Gerald."
The game Saturday will be a time for the team to regroup and prove itself to their fans. Coach Derek Dooley said the Memphis team it faces this Saturday is the best it's had since 2001, but he believes the Vols are capable of a stellar performance this weekend.
"Looking forward, the biggest thing we have to do is improve our stamina — physically, emotionally, intellectually," Dooley said. "The deeper the game goes, continue to trust in your technique, keep competing and not let anything break down."