KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tyler Bray's reversal of fourth-quarter fortune assured that Tennessee avoided a second straight devastating loss.
Bray threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns Saturday night as the Volunteers gained 633 yards of total offense and pulled away in the second half for a 47-26 victory over Akron in front of an announced crowd of 81,719 at Neyland Stadium.
One week after giving up the final 24 points in a 37-20 loss to Florida, Tennessee (3-1) ended Saturday's game on a 17-0 run. Bray had gone 1 of 10 in the fourth quarter last week and closed the game with seven straight incompletions. He went 6 of 7 for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the final period against Akron (1-3).
"We knew they were going to get tired and they were going to wear down," Bray said. "That's what happened."
Bray, who went 27 of 43, also put the Vols ahead for good with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Rajion Neal that broke a 23-23 tie with 6:47 left in the third quarter. Neal rushed for a career-high 151 yards on 22 carries, while Justin Hunter caught eight passes for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Akron quarterback Dalton Williams went 27 of 49 for 229 yards with three interceptions. Byron Moore picked off two passes and became the first Tennessee player to collect multiple interceptions in a game since Eric Berry in 2007.
The Volunteers' second-half outburst kept the Mid-American Conference's productive day from becoming even more memorable.
Earlier in the day, four MAC teams had beaten major-conference opponents. Central Michigan edged Iowa 32-31, Western Michigan defeated Connecticut 30-24, Northern Illinois beat Kansas 30-23 and Ball State rallied for a 31-27 victory over South Florida.
The MAC had one of its best days since Sept. 20, 2003, when Marshall defeated No. 6 Kansas State, Toledo edged No. 9 Pittsburgh and Northern Illinois beat No. 21 Alabama.
An Akron victory would have represented the biggest surprise of all.
Akron, a 33-point underdog, headed into Neyland Stadium on a 21-game road losing streak and had been outscored 256-19 in its five previous games with SEC opponents. But the Zips gave Tennessee all it could handle for most of the night. Akron coach Terry Bowden, the son of former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, seemed intent on avenging his dad's 23-16 loss to Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl that decided the 1998 national champion.
With his father watching from the Akron section of the stands after speaking to the team before the game, Bowden displayed the acumen that helped him post a 47-17-1 record at Auburn from 1993-98.
"I'm not happy," Bowden said. "I am really disappointed. But I am really proud of our players for coming in here and not accepting the fact that they are supposed to lose. We punched when Tennessee punched and weaved and bobbed when they did."