Tyler Bray was 5-for-30 in the Orange and White Game, but that isn't the whole story: Justin Coleman, Malik Jackson and the rest of the White team's defense made the difference in Saturday's spring scrimmage.
Derek Dooley and the rest of the coaching staff would usually have a collective heart attack if the starting QB went 5-for-30. But a spring scrimmage isn’t exactly the time to get worked up over the numbers or to focus on much of anything except the celebrity coaching staff and the flag football game at halftime.
Sure, if you have to pick the game apart for signs of progress, you would start with Tyler Bray’s lackluster passing performance, which is sure to be the subject of most headlines from the Orange and White Game, and you would consider the game’s most obvious positive: the White team’s gritty performance in its 24-7 win over Bray and the Orange.
"It's the one day that the coaches become fans, so we’re having our cake and eating it too," Dooley said. Dooley, not the fan but the head coach, sees the game as one defined by an underdog coming out swinging. "The white team went blue collar on 'em and punched 'em right in the mouth."
Justin Coleman, a 5-10, 185-pound cornerback from Georgia, is probably the best example of the punch delivered to the Orange’s mouth.
Coleman’s numbers - three tackles and two passes defended - don’t exactly jump from the stat sheet, but a defensive series in the third quarter certainly stands out in memory.
Bray decided to test the freshman with three consecutive fades to Justin Hunter, who was streaking to the endzone. Coleman knocked Hunter in the chest on the first pass, slapped the ball out of the air the second go-round and used his body to push Hunter to the sideline.
"Nobody told [Coleman] that Hunter was a good player," Dooley said. "They went right at Coleman and he went right up there."
What makes Coleman’s play impressive and especially worth mention is that he is one of six first-year Vols who enrolled this January.
"That's 14 weeks of training that [Coleman and the other early-enrollees get] ahead of the class they're in,” Dooley said. "That’s huge, it's really huge."
Without reading too much into numbers from a game played between teammates, there are two stats worth mention from the defensive side of the ball: minor league outfielder-turned-safety Brent Brewer had seven tackles, and defensive tackles Willie Bohannon and Malik Jackson had a combined four tackles-for-loss.
Jackson, the USC-transfer who is poised to start after sitting out last season, was in charge of drafting the players for the White team: he let the skills player slide to the Orange side and focused instead on picking up guys in the trenches.
"They were talking real tough this whole week about how they were going to win, but they didn't realize the trenches is where it was at," Jackson said.
Dooley agrees: "I told the team it was a great example that it doesn't matter what kind of game it is, spring game, SEC game, you name it. The team that can win it at the line of scrimmage and run the football will win it."
The post-game consensus is that the team showed signs of progress, but still has a long road ahead if the Vols are to become a serious contender in the SEC.
"It's very important we don’t get enamored with flashes," Dooley said. "There's a huge difference between a guy who makes a good play, or has a good game, and a guy who does it game in and game out.
"We really don’t have a guy on our team who's shown that level of consistency yet."
Dooley is right, but those are thoughts best reserved for June when summer practice starts. For today, fans are content seeing Melvin Goins slam Justin Hunter on an out route and watching Terry Fair (albeit in the flag game during the intermission) break away for the longest touchdown of the game.