There was perhaps no one on Tennessee's sideline Saturday night who had a worse five-minute stretch than freshman kicker Michael Palardy.
In hindsight, coach Derek Dooley said the full 60 minutes, aside from the three short field goals Palardy nailed, was largely forgettable.
"He didn't play well last night," Dooley said on his Sunday teleconference. "He took a little step back."
Dooley wasn't too bothered with Palardy's botched extra point, which followed UT's first touchdown of the night and prevented the Vols from initially evening up the score with Memphis in a 50-14 victory. He was more concerned with the placement and depth of Palardy's kickoffs, the most troubling being the one he sent out of bounds for a costly illegal procedure penalty directly after the missed extra point.
On the surface, it wasn't a bad night, as Memphis' average field position following one of Palardy's 10 kickoffs was at its own 27-yard line. Palardy, though, averaged just 56.7 yards per kick, nearly 6 yards less than Memphis' Paulo Henriques on his three.
"I think his kickoffs will improve as he gets older," Dooley said. "It's 10 yards back from what he does in high school. It takes a lot of physical strength, it takes a lot of timing and hitting that sweet spot consistently."
Saturday was certainly a regression, but it didn't do much to affect UT's lofty national ranking in kickoff return defense. The Vols are first in the SEC and eighth in the nation, allowing 18.36 yards per return.
"It's not just banging it deep, we're trying to place it," Dooley said. "It's a little bit like you got your driver out and you got a real tight fairway. We need it long and we need it on the mark."
Palardy wasn't expecting this much work so soon. He's been UT's full-time field-goal kicker and kickoff man since the beginning of October when senior Daniel Lincoln went down with a nagging quadriceps injury.
Palardy is 5-for-7 on field goals, with his two misses coming from 45 yards and beyond.
"He's a talented young kicker," Dooley said. "He'll learn and grow."
Injury Roundup: Freshman right guard Zach Fulton (ankle) is "doubtful" for Saturday's game (TV: WVLT, noon) against Ole Miss, Dooley said.
"We'll know more each day," Dooley said. "With these ankles you never know.
"It's not a serious ankle injury, but it's an ankle injury."
Fulton, who was highlighted by Dooley for his strong play against Alabama, had started the previous three games at right guard. When Fulton went out in the first half Saturday, senior Jarrod Shaw moved from left guard to right guard, while redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield replaced Shaw.
Tight end Luke Stocker (concussion) is "day to day," Dooley said.
No News: Dooley did not have an update on cornerback Art Evans, who was suspended indefinitely Friday for a violation of team rules.
"I haven't seen Art yet," Dooley said.
A source in the UT football program said the suspension is tied to a vehicle purchased by Evans in the spring that he hasn't been making payments on.
According to sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, UT doesn't believe the situation threatens Evans' eligibility and if payments are made on the car he would be allowed to return to the team.
Couch Decision Coming Soon: Junior-college defensive tackle Maurice Couch (Garden City, Kan.) tweeted Sunday that he knows where he will commit to play football for the 2011 season, but is "waiting to get info about a personal matter" before he announces his decision.
Couch, a four-star according to Rivals.com, briefly committed to the Vols in October before changing his mind. He is thought to be deciding between Tennessee and South Carolina.
Couch is expected to announce his decision Dec. 1, but tweeted Sunday that "there may be a chance" he commits earlier.
Odds and Ends: UT's 9-for-15 effort on third downs Saturday marked its best effort of the season and continued an upward trend for the Vols, who were awful on third downs in September. UT converted just 19 percent of its third-down conversions in the first four games of the season. Since then, the Vols have converted nearly half (34-for-72).
n Senior Tyler Wolf's four tackles on special teams vaulted him into the team lead with eight on the season.
n Tauren Poole, after rushing for 101 yards on 16 carries, is tied for the SEC lead with Auburn quarterback Cam Newton with five 100-yard rushing performances this season.
n Wide receiver Denarius Moore, who hauled in six catches for 103 yards, became the first UT receiver to notch back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Lucas Taylor did at the beginning of the 2007 season.