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Wednesday September 12, 2012Gators readying for Tyler Bray and Vols explosive passing attack

Updated: 12:19am, September 13

Tyler Bray

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tyler Bray was still sort of finding his way through the college football landscape when he encountered the Florida Gators in his just the eighth start of his career; just his fifth against a Southeastern Conference opponent.

The Gators were impressed.

“Last year, he did real good against us,” senior linebacker Lerentee McCray said of the Tennessee quarterback. “And he’s definitely improved from last year.”

UF’s 33-23 defeat of the Volunteers last season marked just the second SEC road game for Bray, yet the former hotshot prep prospect from California was asked to drop and throw 48 times (a career-high to date) and finished with 288 yards, three touchdowns and a couple interceptions.

Fast forward to present day. When the No. 18 Gators (2-0, 1-0) and No. 23 Volunteers (2-0, 0-0) butt heads Saturday night in Knoxville, they’ll face a far more mature and polished version of Bray, the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder who looks like the best pocket passer at UT since Peyton Manning.

Bray, a true junior, is already being projected as a future NFL first-round pick.

"The guy's got great arm strength. He can make all the throws. That's the thing that really jumps out at you, as far as some of the vertical throws down the field and they get there in a hurry,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “He's got great touch on the ball. He's got a good rapport with his receivers with some of the back-shoulder fades and things they throw. He throws the ball into tight coverages. So, it's not like he's throwing against zone all the time. He's throwing the ball against man-to-man in pattern-match coverages. He's put up very impressive numbers."

In wins over North Carolina State and Georgia State, Bray has completed nearly 74 percent of his passes for 643 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Three of his TDs last week went to junior-college transfer Justin Hunter (17 catches, 219), who suffered a season-ending ACL injury early in the loss at Gainesville but looks to be back where he left off before the surgery.

UT’s receiving corps also features wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (9 catches, 64 yards, 1), tight end Mychal Rivera and a slew of other talented players that have enabled the Vols to overcome the dismissal of star wideout Da’Rick Rogers.  

“He’s got talent surrounding him everywhere, so bascially we’ve got to get to him out of rhythm,” senior linebacker Jonathan Bostic said. “If you give him too much time, he can kill you.”

Unlike the first two games, the Vols won’t play catch it/throw it like Bowling Green and Texas A&M. Bray is from the prototypical pocket mold, which should be more to the liking of a Florida defensive front that so far has spent a lot of collective energy rushing the quarterback but without gratification -- and rush -- that comes with hitting the quarterback.

The Gators need to make Bray uncomfortable back there, rather than allow him to set his feet and survey the field.

“I think all good QBs who can throw it on time, that’s one of the advantages you want to get,” UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. “To say, ‘OK, how can we affect this quarterback and, as we say, 'get him off the spot?’ I think that's important in every game and certainly is when you play a quarterback who knows where to go with the ball and gets it out of his hand fast.”

And this kid has confidence in his arm.

“He’s a dare devil,” said cornerback Marcus Roberson, who has the lone UF interception this season. “Sometimes he forces the ball in there .. and we like that.”

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