KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s Tyler Bray is tied for the Southeastern Conference lead in touchdown passes. Connor Shaw’s 13-3 record as a starter is the best mark through 16 games of any quarterback in South Carolina history.
Yet both have reason to look over their shoulders heading into Saturday’s matchup at South Carolina.
Shaw was benched last week in the second half of a 44-11 loss to Florida that marked the 17th-ranked Gamecocks’ second consecutive defeat. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley has warned Bray that he could get replaced if he remains careless with the ball after throwing two interceptions and no touchdown passes in a 44-13 loss to Alabama.
In four Southeastern Conference games this season, Bray has thrown eight interceptions and six touchdown passes. Tennessee has lost all four of those games.
“If he’s loose with the ball, he’s coming out of the game and we’re going to play (Justin) Worley,” Dooley said. “I told him that. He’s too loose with the football, and he’s been too loose. That’s the way it is. You can’t win, we can’t beat these teams turning the ball over. There’s going to be inevitable turnovers in a game. When there is one, make them have made a great play to get it, not serve it up to them, which is what we do.”
Shaw helped South Carolina win its first six games by avoiding those kinds of mistakes, but he has struggled the past two weeks. In losses at Louisiana State University and Florida, Shaw was a combined 28 of 54 for 249 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
He went 9 of 20 for 72 yards against Florida and was replaced by Dylan Thompson in the second half. Thompson went 8 of 20 for 83 yards and an interception.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw would probably get the call Saturday against Tennessee, which ranks last in the SEC in total defense and scoring defense.
“In all likelihood, Connor will go back to starting unless something happens during the week,” Spurrier said. “Dylan did throw a few good ones here and there. We are still trying to get Connor to throw a little bit more when it’s there, but Connor, I think with his ability to run, certainly helps our running game. And every Gamecock alive knows we need to run the ball.”
Bray also will start Saturday, but he understands he must not repeat the errors he made last week.
Although Bray’s 16 overall touchdown passes place him in a three-way tie atop the SEC with Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Georgia’s Aaron Murray, the junior quarterback has thrown six interceptions and only four touchdown passes during the Vols’ three-game losing streak.
Worley, a sophomore who started in place of an injured Bray in the Vols’ 14-3 loss to South Carolina last year, took over for Bray in Tennessee’s final two series against Alabama and went 3-of-4 for 19 yards.
Bray said his film study of the Alabama game reminded him that he needed to calm down.
“I rushed way too much that game,” Bray said. “I was trying to play too fast. I just need to kind of relax.”
Bray’s comments Monday represented the first time he had spoken to the media since the Alabama game. He didn’t make himself available to reporters Saturday night, a move that irritated Dooley.
“I was very disappointed, and I told him that,” Dooley said. “I have no defense for that kind of behavior. He’s the quarterback, and there’s a level of responsibility you have to the team, to the fans and to the media. If you don’t like it, don’t play quarterback. That’s how it is. I told him that. That’s the first time we’ve ever had a guy, I think, do that. That’s unacceptable in our program. Man up. That’s what you have to do.”
Bray said he learned his lesson.
“I just was mad,” Bray said. “I should have owned up to it, manned up and faced the consequences.”