The pressure was on Michael Palardy all throughout the preseason.
Make a long field goal at the end of a long practice, and the day was done. Miss it, and the Tennessee sophomore kicker had to run. So did the rest of his teammates.
Far more often than not — just like he did during his high school days at St. Thomas Aquinas High in South Florida — Palardy passed the test, walking away from Haslam Field with the same confident swagger he used to execute a self-caught onside kick against Cincinnati so coolly.
"He doesn't get rattled. That's the good thing about Mike," special teams coach Eric Russell said last week. "He's going to probably say the (referee) missed the call and it went through the uprights. That's the way he is."
That kind of demeanor, though, was simply nonexistent in a performance to forget last week at Florida.
Though it was early in the first quarter, Palardy missed a critical 37-yard field goal on UT's first offensive possession, one that could have at least put a halfway positive ending to a drive that included wide receiver Justin Hunter's season-ending knee injury. One quarter later, his punt attempt deep in UT territory was resoundingly blocked and he subsequently lost his platoon role at the position to redshirt freshman Matt Darr. To top it off, he failed to register a touchback for the first time all season, as his kicks often fell short enough to set the Gators up with promising field position.
"I can't go out and miss 37-, 39-yard field goals. It's unnecessary," Palardy said. "They're going to expect me later on in the season to perform the way I should.
"The Florida game was unacceptable to me. It's just not characteristic of me."
Palardy hasn't been UT's field goal kicker for long, as he filled in for Daniel Lincoln for a handful of games last season and has just four attempts as a sophomore. All told, he's attempted 11 kicks and missed four as a Vol.
The first quarter miss against the Gators was the first to be from fewer than 40 yards.
"I know I'm going to have a lot more chances throughout the year. We've got a lot of games to go," Palardy said. "I know that a lot of these games, I'm going to be called on by my coaches and by my team. I'm going to have to perform."
There's just no true way for Palardy to gain experience in an environment like last week's without actually doing it. Team runs are one thing, but three, must-have points are a whole different experience.
"You can't really simulate 90,000 (fans) and everything on the line with a team you haven't beaten in seven years," Russell said in the days leading up to the 33-23 loss.
"It's going to be by fire when that opportunity comes up for him."
With Darr now filling the role as UT's full-time punter, Palardy's focus, as he and the Vols (2-1) prepare to host Buffalo (1-3) on Saturday (TV: CSS, 12:30 p.m.) is sharpened on never letting what he did at Florida happen again. There was no need to analyze the film to see what he did wrong technique-wise on an attempt that sailed wide right from the moment his foot hit the ball.
Instead of locking his head on the ball all the way until the end of his follow-through, Palardy popped up too early to watch it sail far right of his target.
"I can't do that," Palardy said. "If I do that, I'm going to miss eight times out of 10."
Palardy's sample size is small, and a 2-for-4 stretch would go without much external cause for concern if it occurred midway through the season instead of the beginning. He's yet to make a field goal from deeper than 40 yards and only three of his makes have come against SEC competition, but time remains on his side.
So do UT's coaches and the teammates, whose fate he has directly affected in more ways than one.
"The coaches believe in me," Palardy said. "The coaches know I have the ability to make every single kick inside of 48 yards. That's what I have to do.
"If they believe in me, I have to trust everything I do is correct."
Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 865-342-6327 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/gribble