Vanderbilt expects to see Volunteers' top quarterback

Monday, November 14, 2011 at 10:29pm

For the fourth straight week, freshman Justin Worley sits atop Tennessee’s depth chart.

Vanderbilt, however, is preparing to see a quarterback who hasn’t played in more than a month.

“Our expectation and what we are going to plan for is to face Tyler Bray,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “I think that will give them a spark of energy, kind of getting him back. He was playing very, very well early in the year.”

Bray practiced Monday for the first time since he broke his thumb in his throwing hand against Georgia on Oct. 8. The sophomore had completed 65.9 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,579 yards and 14 touchdowns in four-plus games before the injury.

UT lost 20-12 to Georgia and since has dropped four of five.

After senior Matt Simms underwhelmed in two straight starts against then the nation’s top two teams — LSU and Alabama — UT coach Derek Dooley decided to shed Worley’s redshirt. He has mustered just one passing touchdown and three interceptions, failing to jumpstart an offense that ranks 10th in the SEC in scoring offense.

The Volunteers are 4-6 – 0-6 in the Southeastern Conference — heading into Saturday’s 6 p.m. matchup (ESPNU) against visiting Vanderbilt (5-5, 2-5).

Needing a win to keep its bowl chances alive heading into the regular-season finale at Kentucky, Dooley might be inclined to start Bray despite the recent period of inactivity. It would be Bray’s second appearance against Vanderbilt. Last year, in just his third start, he tossed a touchdown and completed 16-of-27 passes for 232 yards with two interceptions in UT's 24-10 victory.

“The reality is, if he’s ready to go we’d be crazy to not at least give him a shot — given the inconsistency we’ve had at that position,” Dooley said. “He’s going to have a little learning curve coming back because he has been out of ball. We will see. We still have to get the other guys ready to play, and we will just kind of it take it day by day.”

• Defending Stewart: Franklin opened his weekly press conference like he always does, assessing the previous game. Then — before he fielded questions — he spent more than a minute defending center Logan Stewart.

“This is no way of being critical of the officiating in the conference. This is talking about my players,” Franklin said.

The sophomore was flagged for a personal foul in the first quarter of Saturday’s 38-8 victory against Kentucky. As Jonathan Krause ran for four yards behind him, Stewart went down the field and attempted to throw a block below the knees of a Kentucky defender. He was suspended for a half earlier in the season after an illegal cut block in the back of a Georgia defender’s leg. Two games ago against Florida, he was flagged for a personal foul after delivering a late hit.

Franklin, however, insists that on the play against Kentucky, Stewart practiced what the coaches’ preach and played through the play.

“He is throwing a legal cut block on a defender, but they are considering it after the play has ended,” Franklin said. “The way we teach our guys, and what we’ve always taught our guys, is that you play from when the ball is snapped until the whistle has blown. That block occurred before the whistle was blown. But he’s supposed to know when the play has ended and the whistle does not signify the end of the play, as I’m being explained the rules.”

• Stacy honored: Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy was named the SEC’s offensive player of the week.

The junior rushed for 135 yards on 28 carries and scored three touchdowns against Kentucky. It was his second three-touchdown game and he now has 891 rushing yards — the fifth-highest single-season total in school history and the most by a Vanderbilt running back since Jermaine Johnson had 1,072 yards in 1995.

Stacy’s former high school teammate, Georgia center Ben Jones, was named the league’s offensive lineman of the week. Both played at Bibb County High School in Macon, Ga.

• Game time: Vanderbilt’s regular-season finale at Wake Forest on Nov. 26 will be played at 2:30 p.m. (CST) and will be televised on ESPNU.