Eleven yards on the first six carries.
The running game couldn't have started any worse.
Then Marlin Lane changed all of that.
With just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter, the junior tailback took the first down handoff, weaved his way through traffic, and found the coveted open field along the South Alabama sideline.
After a few nifty cutbacks, the Daytona Beach, Fla., native was in full stride as the checkerboard end zone appeared to be the likely destination. Jaguar defenders finally caught up to Lane, but not before he ripped off a 54-yard scamper to set up Tennessee first-and-goal at the USA five.
"When we spit out some big runs, it really opens up our offense and really helps with getting a drive going," UT quarterback Justin Worley said.
The play was the first 50-plus yard run by a UT tailback in nearly three years.
Then it happened again.
Following a South Alabama punt early in the second quarter, backfield mate Rajion Neal followed suit, busting a simple draw play wide open for a 53-yard gain. The senior from Fayetteville, Ga., broke the initial tackle, bounced off an engaged teammate and accelerated into space, perfectly showcasing a patented Butch Jones "splash play."
"I thought Rajion Neal stepped up when we needed him to," Jones said. "I really liked what he did. I thought he ran physical, he ran assertive, and he ran with great pad level."
He gave us some big splash plays and he took care of the football...I'm proud of him. I thought he played his best game."
Neal's long run took the Volunteers from their own 40-yard line to the Jaguar 7, and a pivotal touchdown followed two plays later.
It was the first time two different UT tailbacks had rushes over 50 yards since Travis Henry and Travis Stephens did so in the 2000 Kentucky game.
Special Teams Turmoil
Although Michael Palardy has been a consistent bright spot for the Volunteer offense, the senior kicker ran into some trouble early in the fourth quarter. After yet another UT drive stalled, the Coral Springs, Fla., native lined up for a 47-yard field goal that would have pushed the Volunteer lead to 17.
Only the kicked never happened.
Jones had called a fake.
And a beautiful call it was as holder Tyler Drummer pitched the ball to a wide-open Palardy who could have walked into the end zone untouched.
Could being the operative word as a false start penalty nixed the potential touchdown only moments into its development.
"The fake field goal, we had practiced it all week, Jones said. "They were in an overload situation, and we had it. Again, penalties, that changes the game. I'd like to think the game's over with and we jumped off sides and illegal procedure."
Despite the costly mistake, UT had another opportunity to widen the lead as Jones kept the kicking team on the field to attempt a 52-yarder.
The snap was perfect. The hold appeared to be spot-on, but the kick was nothing less than dreadful. The ball dubiously spun in the air, traveling no more than 20 yards before a waiting Jaguar defender returned the mishap to the UT 29.
Boos directed at Palardy reigned down from the highest perches of Neyland Stadium as fans instantly forgot about his first quarter 40-yard field goal and two 50-yard punts.
Only it wasn't his fault at all.
"He kicked, (and) the holder's hand got under the football," Jones said
Upon replay, it appeared Drummer didn't get his other hand out of the way in time, essentially blocking the Palardy kick as it left his foot.
Brian Randolph's game-clinching interception was his third of the season. All three have occurred in the end zone.
Two freshmen, A.J. Branisel and Josh Smith, each caught touchdowns on Saturday, marking the first time since Nov. 6, 2010, that feat had been achieved.