After four-straight disappointing losses for the Volunteers, a 24-0 win over Middle Tennessee State was an uplifting end to homecoming week.
   
 Though the offense failed to show up during the second half, Tennessee’s (4-5, 0-5 SEC) defense managed to hold the Blue Raiders (2-6, 1-3 Sun Belt) to 97 rushing yards and record the Vols’ first shutout since Derek Dooley’s first game as coach, last year’s season-opener against UT-Martin.
   
 Senior middle linebacker Austin Johnson said the win was a good morale boost for the team, with the shutout as an added bonus.
   
 “First, it feels good to get a win,” Johnson said. “It’s always nice to get a ‘W’ no matter the opponent. It feels like we haven’t won in forever so it’s nice to get that under our belt and go into tomorrow with a little bit better attitude. MTSU puts up a lot of points so shutting them out was good for us.”
   
Dooley said the game showcased the team’s improvements over the last two seasons through coaching and player development.
   
 “I will tell you, the coaches had a great plan. They really did,” Dooley said. “We have grown a lot since the Oregon game last year and this past pay stub. We did an excellent job of substitutions. We were never misaligned and it allowed our players to play. We got better players. When you have better players, line up right and play hard and we win the game. I thought everybody played well. When you pitch a shutout in today’s game, it is great. I don’t care who you play. They were averaging over 400 yards and 30 points a game so it’s good.”
   
 In true freshman quarterback Justin Worley’s second start, he threw his first career touchdown pass to put Tennessee ahead 14-0 in the first quarter. The 47-yard pass to Da’Rick Rogers ended a 17-quarter streak of no touchdown passes for the Volunteers. Worley finished 23-of-32 for 291 yards and the one touchdown.
    
“Last week, I came out of the game with a bad feeling because, obviously, we didn’t meet my expectations. We didn’t meet the team’s goals,” Worley said Saturday night. “Coming into tonight, with the offense executing like it did, I am really pleased.”
    
Dooley said he was proud of Worley’s game and was glad that he didn’t allow his performance against South Carolina to hinder him against MTSU.
    
“Justin really played a game,” Dooley said. “It is the game we were hoping he would play last week. He was just one week late. But he performed the way we have seen in practice. He was very calm and composed, still made some mistakes but what a great game.”
    
Tennessee managed to force three turnovers from the Blue Raiders. Johnson and sophomore defensive back Eric Gordon each recorded interceptions, directly leading to 10 points. Sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that was recovered by sophomore linebacker Dontavis Sapp.
    
Dooley said three turnovers per game was a goal for the team, but Tennessee has only had 12 turnovers this season, with six coming from the last two games. Johnson said the difference over the last two weeks has been achieved in practice.
   
 “It’s been doing it in practice and that’s what our coaches have been harping on us all week, every week,” Johnson said. “The first half of the season, we didn’t have any turnovers so pushing for those turnovers in practice has paid off in the games.”
    
The win created a positive outlook for UT players and fans as they look forward to Arkansas next Saturday. Dooley said breaking the losing streak was healing for him and the team.
    
“Man, it feels good,” Dooley said. “When you lose and keep losing it pulls on your spirit you start questioning everything, you start doubting everything. Nothing heals better than a good win, and it was a good win. I’m proud of the team.”