MIAMI - After dismal offensive showings over the past month, no one seemed to think Tennessee could out-produce or defeat Miami's high-powered offense.
Those critics would have been half-right.
Even though then-No. 6 Miami outgained the UT offense by 151 yards, the Volunteers walked away from South Florida with a 10-6 win and with its conference title hopes still alive.
"A lot of people didn't think that we had a chance," Tennessee quarterback Casey Clausen said of his nearly two-touchdown underdog Vols. "I think that's when this team is at its best."
If Clausen is right, then Tennessee (7-2, 3-2) may not see its best for the rest of the season. The Vols' final three opponents, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, have a combined record of 7-19 (2-12 SEC).
So while UT will be favored for the remainder of its games, a victory over Miami seemed improbable to most.
But the Vols used a defense that forced four Hurricane turnovers and an offense that produced none to seal the win.
"How you kill a fire-breathing dragon is you don't feed it," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
"If you don't feed Miami with turnovers and sacks and let them disrupt you totally, you can get some of those. Don't feed their dragon, then you've got a chance to beat them."
The sloppy Hurricanes (7-2) fumbled the ball three times (losing two), and also tossed two interceptions.
Holding Miami to just 108 yards on the ground, the Vol defense continually put pressure on 'Cane quarterback Brock Berlin.
The result was a fumble and two interceptions from the Florida transfer.
The first interception led to UT's first score of the day, a 41-yard field goal by James Wilhoit early in the second quarter, and the other ended a possible scoring drive on the Tennessee 7-yard line.
"Coach Fulmer preached all week the importance of getting turnovers," UT senior linebacker Robert Peace said. "We knew we'd get some eventually - we just had to keep doing the things we'd been doing."
Turnovers weren't the only statistic holding back the 'Canes. The SEC officiating crew flagged Miami for 12 penalties for 121 yards.
For the Volunteers, the penalties proved most helpful on the game's lone touchdown drive.
After a roughing-the-kicker penalty gave the Vols back the ball late in the second quarter, Tennessee drove to the Miami 1-yard line and scored on a Derrick Tinsley end-around on fourth down.
The Miami defense was penalized 35 yards on the drive.
Tinsley and the Hurricanes' self-inflicted problems met in the game's key play.
The Vols were forced to punt from their own 27-yard line with less than two minutes remaining in the game. But Miami's All-American safety, Sean Taylor, fumbled the ball and Tinsley recovered.
The crucial mistake allowed the UT offense to return to the field and run out the clock.
Even though the offense only recorded 89 total rushing yards, Fulmer said the performance was just what the team needed.
"I told our offense we have to stay on the field and I told our defense we have to stay off the field," Fulmer said. "We hadn't been doing either one of those very well."
Tennessee was only held to one three-and-out on the day and held a 20:34 to 9:26 advantage in time of possession in the first half.
"I didn't think we were gonna come down here and throw it 40 times and win," UT offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "We had a focus on running the ball and we did that as well as we need to do today."
With the win, the Vols jump to No. 9 in the AP poll and No. 13 in the coaches' poll. But according to Peace, the victory does more than just give Tennessee a higher ranking.
"This is the game Tennessee needed," Peace said. "Tennessee needed to beat a great program. Miami is one of the top teams out there and this can get Tennessee back to where it's suppose to be."