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Matt Simms ready to lead Vols again

Matt Simms has seen this movie before.

Simms is the tragic, underdog hero looking to vanquish the evil doers, but must first fail in order to learn the value of what it truly means to win.

However, when Tennessee’s senior quarterback went through this last year by facing Tennessee’s toughest part of the season , he came out with a 2-6 record. Five of those losses came to ranked opponents.

It wasn’t the right ending. Not for the lovable underdog. Well, inject some cruel irony and Simms is right back where he was -- dealing with the monsters of the SEC in true underdog fashion.

His quest begins again after starter Tyler Bray, who replaced Simms last year, broke his thumb against Georgia. Simms came right in and passed for 39 yards on 4-of-6 passing and scored Tennessee’s only touchdown when he plunged into the end zone for a 1-yard score.

But that was only the beginning, as Bray could be out at least four weeks and Simms is left to lead the Vols against No. 1 LSU Saturday, then against Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas during the next four weeks.

It seems harsh, but this time Simms says he’s more prepared and confident. Even after Bray replaced Simms last year, he continued to train as if he were the starter. His confidence never wavered and he approached each day as if he were No. 1 on the depth chart.

Now, the underdog, equipped with a reeling Tennessee team that sits at 3-2 and winless in the SEC, is ready for his next round of monsters, even with the plethora of doubters.

“Everyone is going to count us out,“ Simms said, “but we need to focus on what we need to do to win the game and win our first SEC game of the season.

“I’m looking forward to it. Obviously, a lot of people would say they would say they wouldn’t want to have their first start of the season against a team like LSU, but I look forward to the challenge.

Not only is Simms replacing one of the league’s top passers, but he will be without deep threat Justin Hunter, who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida, and running back Tauren Poole is nursing a sore hamstring that has limited him in practice.

Things could be falling apart in Knoxville, but Simms said his first order of business after the Georgia game was to rally players,. His teammates have tremendous respect for him, but they understand their play has to increase mightily if they want a chance in the second half.

No one will comfort Tennessee, but that doesn’t mean the Vols can quit.

“As the days go on, you realize there’s no sense in sticking your head down and feeling sorry for yourself,” Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. “You have to dust off your pants and you've got to get up and you've got to start being solution-oriented.

“Everyone is going to rally around Matt and we’re going to go out there and play the best we can. That’s all you can do.”

Cleaning up some first-half numbers would help, too. This team is last in the SEC in rushing, 10th in pass defense, 11th in pass defense efficiency, has one interception and seven sacks, and is -1 in turnover margin.

You can attribute some of that to youth, which will no doubt show more during these next few weeks, and losing two big offensive playmakers won‘t help with poise. Dooley already admitted that losing Bray was a “blow to the spirit” of this team.

That’s where Simms comes in and he said he can handle damage control. Tennessee loses the moxie and big arm of Bray, but gets a senior leader and a heck of a confident guy.

Tennessee is in for a rough few weeks, but Simms believes this movie can end with Tennessee getting to the SEC title game.

“For our own team to think that we should be counted out is ridiculous,“ he said. “We should be ready to go week in and week out no matter who the opponent is.

“We do have a tough road ahead, but this is why we play in this conference and you never know what’s going to happen. It’s unfortunate that Tyler and Justin did go down with injuries, but no one feels sorry for us and we can’t feel sorry for ourselves."