It was a tale of two halves.
That's the only way to explain the Vols', 31-24, narrow escape of South Alabama Saturday inside Neyland Stadium.
After a game of ups and downs, the fate of the game came down to goal line stand for the Vols defense.
Senior defensive lineman Corey Miller was able to get a crucial sack on second down, and on fourth-and-goal from the 8 yard line, sophomore safety Brian Randolph came away with an interception – his third of the season – to close the curtains on the Jags hopes of a comeback.
"We were trying to give them the game and they made it a game, so having our defense step up like that and having faith in the guys across the board, it's good to have," junior quarterback Justin Worley said. "It was a little nerve rattling knowing that we might have to go down in a two minute situation and score but our defense had our back and they had a great stop."
Following an opening drive touchdown by the Jaguars to grab an early 7-0 lead, the Vols dominated the first half and found themselves on the verge of a blowout as they went into halftime up 24-7.
"That was probably the best overall we have felt running the ball and throwing the ball just knowing what to expect from the defense, picking it up and things like that," Worley said. "They were a high pressured team and we did a great job for the most part today picking it up, especially in run blocking as well, helping spit out some of those explosive runs."
A seven play, 76-yard drive was capped off by an 11-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Rajion Neal and put the Vols ahead 31-7 to start the third quarter.
It was followed with an interception by UT senior linebacker Brent Brewer that appeared to seal the deal for the Vols.
That is until Worley gave the Jags newfound life on the very next play, throwing a pick to South Alabama's Maleki Harris who returned it to the Vols 5 yard line.
Jags quarterback Ross Metheny found his way into the end zone for his second rushing score of the day and started a string of 17 unanswered points – thanks to a stagnating UT offense – that trimmed the Vols lead from 24 to 7.
"I think we stopped making plays and we stopped paying attention to the small details," head coach Butch Jones said. "The small details lead to the big details. That's the thing; it's that mental conditioning, that mental effort that we talk about.
"It's a 60-minute game, it's not a 20-minute game, and it's not a 15-minute game. That's something that we talk about it and it's hard for young individuals to understand that."
Last year, a game like this one may have ended differently for the Vols, but senior linebacker Dontavis Sapp said this game was a testament to how much the team has grown as a team.
"It showed that we have matured as a team and that we're willing to fight," Sapp said. "Overcome things, when things go bad, and we need something done it shows that we can go out and get it. It was a good confidence building experience and we're just happy we came out with the win."
The Vols now shift their attention to the third ranked team they will play this season and the first in a three week stretch of such opponents when they face No. 9 Georgia at home on Saturday. The game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. EST and will be televised on CBS.