Obviously, Michael Palardy would have preferred the kind of night he had Saturday at Alabama to coincide with a Tennessee victory.
The versatile sophomore, though, said he's now in a better position mentally to help the Vols win games in the future after hitting two long field goals, keeping Alabama's potent returners in check with high punts and well-positioned kicks and even completing a first-down pass during the 37-6 loss.
"I needed a game like this to kind of put me back to where I'm supposed to be," Palardy said. "To show everybody that that's who I am."
It hadn't been who he was through the first half of the season, as Palardy missed three of his nine field-goal attempts, seemingly lost his platoon role with Matt Darr at punter and was failing to generate consistent distance on his kickoffs. His performance, Palardy said, wasn't mimicking what he was showing on the practice field during the week. And, unlike last season, he wasn't hampered by any nagging injuries.
He just needed to see some results.
"The atmosphere is a lot different going into the game," he said. "Doing it in practice is the same thing as doing it in the game; just more fans, more people watching and more noise.
"I just have to trust everything I do in practice is going to make me succeed."
Following a series where he saw the Vols go for a fourth-down conversion rather than attempt a 52-yard field goal, Palardy hit a 40-yard field goal to give the Vols (3-4, 0-4 SEC) an early 3-0 lead. Stuck at a similar point of the field during the second quarter but with 11 yards to go for a first down, the Vols called on Palardy for a 52-yard attempt.
On just his third career try from more than 50 yards, Palardy snuck it into the bottom-right corner of the uprights to notch the longest field goal by a Vol since Jeff Hall's 53-yarder against Oklahoma State in 1995.
"Just one of those days," Palardy said. "I felt good, felt confident."
Palardy was equally confident in the punting game, where he handled all responsibilities for the first time all season. He averaged 39.2 yards net, allowing Alabama's Marquis Maze to return just one of his five punts, and he executed a fake punt to perfection when he hit wide receiver Anthony Anderson with a 5-yard pass.
Coach Derek Dooley said it's a "feel thing" when he and special teams coach Eric Russell choose between Palardy and Darr.
"It worked out pretty good," Dooley said. "We hit a fake and got points out of that. Matt's doing fine. I'm a little ADD when it comes to the punter situation."
Palardy, considered one of the nation's top kickers out of high school, came to UT hoping to handle all of the kicking duties, so a night like Saturday was right up his alley.
"It doesn't really take a toll on my legs," Palardy said. "I enjoy it. I enjoy putting myself into the game and doing everything I can to help the team out."
Make It Snappy: Neither quarterback Matt Simms nor Alex Bullard reported any issues after Bullard's first career game at center.
"It's just something that we worked hard on all week," Bullard said. "We stayed after practice and worked out. That was the main focus, getting the ball to the quarterback, and I think we handled that pretty well."
Just a Freshman: After picking up just four tackles in the first two games of the season, linebacker A.J. Johnson is now ranked among the nation's top freshmen tacklers.
Johnson and senior Austin Johnson are tied for the team lead with 45 tackles, a total that ranks 16th in the SEC. A.J. Johnson, who led UT with 13 tackles Saturday and has 24 in the past two games, leads all SEC freshmen with an average of 6.4 tackles per game.
"It was a stature game and he shows up in those kind of hard, physical games," Dooley said. "We've got to get more A.J. Johnsons."
TV Time: Saturday's 7:15 p.m. game against No. 14 South Carolina (6-1, 4-1) will air on ESPN2, the network announced early Sunday.
The game will be UT's fourth on ESPN2 this season and its third home game under the lights of Neyland Stadium.