With 3 seconds left and the Vols on the 2-yard line, the fate of snapping a 19-game and nearly four-year streak of not defeating a ranked opponent came down to the left foot of a kicker with newfound confidence.

"Well, I was pacing up and down the sideline for quite a while, but I was pretty calm for the most part," kicker Michael Palardy said. "I just kind of took it as, 'I've done it before. It's every kick that I've executed in practice or a game. I just need to execute it the way that my team wants me to,' and it worked."

As he sprinted down the field following his game-winning 19-yard field goal to upset No. 11 South Carolina, Palardy's career finally received it's crowning moment.

The former three-star recruit and second-ranked kicker in the nation after his tenure at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., came into his final season at UT having been an unreliable kicker – even being benched for walk-on kicker Derrick Brodus last year – with a career 69.6 percent clip on field goals.

One of the many scapegoats for the frustrated Volunteer faithful over the past three years, Palardy accepted the criticism and used it to help turn around his tumultuous tenure.

"Everyone was saying the same stuff in previous years and I took that criticism and I kind of ran with it," Palardy said. "That kind of drove me to make myself better as a person and as a player.

"I think I've really benefited from it and I appreciate every ounce of criticism that I've received over the past couple of years because that has kind of fueled me to be successful this year."

Those hardships also contributed to the senior's ability to get through UT head coach Butch Jones' tough demeanor from a week-to-week basis.

"When Coach Jones came in here, I found out early that you have to have thick skin," Palardy said. "No matter what position you play, he will be in your ear. He will consistently be in your ear. He is always yelling at me, but it isn't because he is angry but to lookout for the best of us.

"I like to think of myself as having thick skin with all of the criticism I have taken over the past couple of years. He has really instilled a lot of confidence in me."

The first-year head coach has spoken highly of Palardy and sees him as a crucial part of this Tennessee team that has improved drastically as the season has progressed.

"He listened and was very coachable, but he's extremely competitive, and he wants to be great and right now, like I said, we've improved defensively because of him, and offensively we're now generating some more points because of field position," Jones said. "So he's been a weapon for us in everything he's done in terms of kickoffs, punting the football and placekicking."

The senior has been consistent as both a placekicker and punter for the Vols. He is 8 of 10 as a kicker and averaging 44.5 yards per punt, good for 13th in the nation with 16 of his aforementioned punts downed inside the 20-yard line.

He was also named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week and a Lou Groza Star of the Week, following his performance against the Gamecocks.

"Over the past couple of years, I have had good and bad games," Palardy said. "As a kicker and punter, you can't have that. You have to be consistent 9 games out of 10 or even 10 out of 10. That is the way that it goes. I would just say that I feel a lot better about my play and myself.

"There is still a lot more improvement to be done, but I feel we are well prepared for the Alabama game."