Sept. 10, 2011
BY JOSH PATE
KNOXVILLE -- Michael Palardy is a trusting person. He has to be.
So when Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley called for an onside kick in the first quarter of Tennessee's 45-23 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday at Neyland Stadium, Palardy simply trusted his coach's gut. After all, the Vols kicker had been practicing the surprise play since last season.
"You kind of have to trust that it works," Palardy said. "It worked all week in practice and all year. We worked on it all last year, and it carried over this year. That's our specialty kick. I just have to trust that it will happen, that I was going to make the play."
Cincinnati scored on its opening drive behind a 65-yard run from tailback Isaiah Pead, and the Vols responded with a 2-yard scoring run by Marlin Lane. So with the game tied 7-7 with 9:53 to play in the first quarter, Dooley signaled for the kick.
"We practiced it a lot and felt like we had a chance," Dooley said. "In the first drive, the guy goes 60-some yards and runs all over us. We scored. So I wanted to keep a little momentum going, and it worked. That was a good way to keep momentum."
The play called for Palardy to kick it straight, and for the two blockers on either side to keep the lane clear for the Palardy to recover the ball. It's worked in practice since last year. And it worked in the game Saturday afternoon.
Palardy jumped on the ball at the UT 41. Five plays later, quarterback Tyler Bray sent a perfect pass to Justin Hunter in stride down the far sideline for a 33-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead. The onside kick kept momentum with the Vols, and it was a big moment in what turned into a runaway victory.
"You can tell," Palardy said of how the momentum shifted. "We scored off of that recovery with Justin. That's huge. It's a huge momentum changer, and we needed it."
Palardy noted the Vols had seen some holes in Cincinnati's kickoff return coverage on film that opened the door for the play. The coaches harped on it in practice all week, and Palardy was able to execute it.
In fact, Palardy had a solid night overall. Two of his other kickoffs, including the opening kick to start the game, went into the end zone for touchbacks. He didn't have a touchback in any of his 45 kickoffs last season.
The extra strength comes from Palardy's health.
"I feel great," Palardy said. "You can tell on my kickoffs. I had more touchbacks today than I did all of last year. I kind of tweaked my groin a little bit during spring, but then I rested after spring and into fall camp. That's when I knew I was ready."
Still, all the attention came on his shortest kick of the night.
"We go into every game with stuff," Dooley said. "We try to generate some plays with special teams. We've done a really decent job the last two years, last year and this year. Palardy had great execution."