Standing across the salad bar from each other on Fridays before games, Butch Jones asks his kicker the same question every week.
"You got the game-winner, right?" Jones said after Saturday's win as he recalled his conversation with Michael Palardy.
"I got you, coach," Palardy responded Friday.
For the first time all season—and in Palardy's once-tumultuous career—he lived up to his word. His 19-yard field goal as time expired propelled the Vols to a 23-21 victory over No. 11 South Carolina, Palardy's first career game-winner.
"It meant everything to me, to be honest with you," Palardy said of the fateful kick. "It's been a long time coming."
It's been a turn-around season for the senior, who entered Saturday 11th in the FBS in punt average and having missed just two field goals all year. He attributes that to his unique relationship with Jones.
"He tells me every day to visualize a game-winning kick, because sooner or later it's going to come down to it," Palardy said. "And he was right.
"The confidence (Jones has) instilled in me is unbearable and unbreakable, and I appreciate everything he's done for me. I couldn't do it without him."
Turning a blind eye
A wide-eyed, noticeably sarcastic Rajion Neal shook his head as junior quarterback Justin Worley struggled to contain his laughter alongside him.
Neal had just been asked about a play near the end of the first half. The Vols were running the clock down to a 17-7 halftime lead when Jadeveon Clowney corralled the Vols' rusher in the backfield, spurring him to toss the ball forward to Worley. The Gamecocks recovered, but officials oddly ruled it as a forward pass and incomplete, saving the Vols' two-possession halftime lead.
"Oh, man, yeah, I don't remember that play," Neal said among the laughter of media. "I honestly don't know what play that was. I just remember coming in at halftime and going through our key points, and coming back out for the second half."
The topic emerged shortly after, and Neal was again close-lipped.
"Yeah, I still don't know what play that was," he said.
Jones played along with the charade, jokingly saying it was set up to be a pass play all along.
"It was a screen to the tight end," Jones said underneath a smile.
Clowney vs. Tiny II
Clowney entered the season as the undisputed No. 1 overall pick in next spring's NFL draft, but came into Saturday with just three tackles for loss all season.
He matched that in the Vols' first two possessions.
Lining up against a fellow supposed first-round talent, Vols tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, Clowney had his best game yet and forced UT backwards early on.
Jones lauded Clowney's performance, but attributed his team's ability to emerge victorious to one of his quirky, yet effective, sayings—snap and clear.
"He's going to get his plays. Snap and clear and just keep playing," Jones said. "He is a great player. You know Clowney is going to get his plays. He played exceptionally well. He was disruptive."
Richardson got the best of an injury-hampered Clowney in last year's contest—until the final play, when the Gamecocks defensive end strip-sacked Tyler Bray and preserved a 38-35 Carolina win. After that game, both circled Oct. 19 on their schedules.
The UT tackle said he tried to find Clowney after the game to offer his respect, but didn't shy away from complimenting his performance.
"I guess he went to the locker room, but I wish I could have (talked to him)," Richardson said. "He played a great game, especially in the first half. For a player like him, and a player like me, he brought his 'A' game today and I have all the respect for him."