KNOXVILLE -- An awkward landing put an early damper on Tennessee's football season.
The helmet of Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson now has altered the Volunteers' 2011 campaign even further.
UT quarterback Tyler Bray fractured the thumb on his throwing hand when the sophomore hit it against Robinson's helmet following through on a pass late in the fourth quarter of the Vols' 20-12 loss on Saturday night. An x-ray revealed the break that has an estimated recovery time of six weeks, according to a UT release. Bray has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,579 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
The Vols lost star receiver Justin Hunter in the loss at Florida three weeks ago to a season-ending knee injury.
"Nobody's going to feel sorry for Tennessee, that's what I told the team," coach Derek Dooley said Saturday night.
Matt Simms, who started the first eight games of last season before giving way to Bray, now takes control of the offense with games against top-ranked LSU, second-ranked Alabama, 15th-ranked South Carolina and 10th-ranked Arkansas in the next five weeks.
Since a week before the start of the season the Vols have lost offensive stars Bray and Hunter in addition to the dismissal of safety Janzen Jackson, who was arguably UT's best defensive player. Linebacker Herman Lathers, the Vols' leading returning tackle, hasn't played this season after brutally fracturing his ankle in June.
"You've just got put everything that's happened in the past and look to the future," senior linebacker Austin Johnson said. "We've just got to look at them as nameless and faceless and just another opponent. We've got prepare as well as we did last week and prepare for this week."
Simms completed four of six passes for 39 yards in relief of Bray against the Bulldogs and scored the Vols' lone touchdown on a one-yard quarterback sneak. UT faced a third-and-27 situation after Simms was penalized for intentional grounding, but passes to DeAnthony Arnett and Mychal Rivera set up the score.
"I just knew that everyone was screaming my name," Simms said. "I just ran over there. You have to be prepared in this position no matter what, so I was just ready to go."
The fifth-year senior nearly led UT to an upset of LSU in Baton Rouge last year, but the Vols memorably lost after they were penalized for having 13 men on the field when the Tigers botched the game's final 30 seconds. LSU scored the winning touchdown on the extra play that resulted from the penalty.
"He did a pretty good job of going in those last few drives [Saturday]," defensive back Prentiss Waggner said. "If Tyler can't get back, then Matt is going to have to step up a do a good job for us."
UT gave no official word on the hamstring injury that ended starting tailback Tauren Poole's night against Georgia. The senior left the game in the first half after running for only seven yards on seven carries. UT finished with minus-20 yards rushing. The Vols ran for minus-9 yards in the loss at Florida.
Marlin Lane would handle primary backfield duties if Poole's injury is serious. The freshman had eight yards on seven carries against Georgia, but he caught six passes for 84 yards.
"We'll consider giving anybody some reps in the backfield if they can generate some yards," Dooley said. "You didn't have your senior heavy runner, not that that would have been the difference, but when you lose your starting running back, it hurts. But what was he doing before that? He wasn't tearing it up anyway."
Most of the pressure on offense, though, falls on Simms. He was sacked 28 times and took countless other hits before Bray replaced him for good early in the second half of the loss at South Carolina last October.
Simms will need that durability against arguably the Southeastern Conference's top most physical and talented defenses in LSU and Alabama. True freshman Justin Worley and redshirt freshman Nash Nance are the Vols' other two scholarship quarterbacks.
"He took us down for a score, that was something we didn't do all game," Dooley said. "Of course the situation was different. Matt's a senior. I knew we were going to need him; he knew we were going to need him."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...