Tennessee wanted things to be different.
The Vols (6-4, 3-3) hoped to get their backups extensive playing time and give their starters an enjoyable rest against North Texas in Neyland Stadium Saturday, but sloppy offensive play early didn't allow that to happen. Instead, Butch Jones' squad was happy to exit with a 24-0 win over the Mean Green to secure bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season.
"There isn't a 'U' behind the 'W' that says ugly win," Jones said. "They're all wins, but we have to go back and we have to get better ... I thought our kids were gritty and we grinded it out and got bowl eligible. We have a long ways to go, but I'm proud of them."
The rout appeared to be on early, as Tennessee needed just 1:09 seconds to punch its opening possession in the end zone behind a 27-yard run by Alvin Kamara. Kamara turned in his best performance of the season, ending the day with 127 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
But Kamara's fireworks out of the gate weren't sustained by the rest of the offense, which mustered only 17 points before halftime against a team that ranked No. 124 in the country in total defense coming into the game. Jalen Hurd, who finished with 72 yards and a score, ran for a 1-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter and Aaron Medley added a 34-yard field goal with 2:41 to play in the half to give Tennessee a 17-0 lead.
The Vols iced the game away with a 15-yard Kamara touchdown rush. The former Alabama running back provided his team with a few fits of electricity when the unit was unable to establish a rhythm early.
"I think, sometimes when you go into a game like this, this is a game of patience," Jones said. "I think sometimes, from a psychological standpoint, you're trying to get up in a hurry. I thought we looked up (at the scoreboard) instead up putting our heads down and just playing at times, starting to press."
The former Alabama running back's score ushered in a mass entrance of backup players, including quarterback Quinten Dormady, who went 3-of-6 for 36 yards. Dormady may have seen the field even sooner, but starter Josh Dobbs didn't turn in one of his better performance sin the win. The junior connected on 15-of-23 passes for 193 yards and an interception, missing badly on a couple of throws and rushing for just three yards.
"You just never take anything for granted, and I was going to put (Dormady) in at the end of the first half on the one minute drive," Jones said. "I wanted to try to get that rhythm going on offense and I didn’t want to disrupt that one and get some momentum. We feel comfortable at any stage of the game with Quinten playing.”
Despite a lackluster offensive showing, Tennessee outgained North Texas 409 yards to 199 yards. The Mean Green were just 2-of-12 on third down conversions and threw for just 107 yards on the Vols in the loss.
Tennessee heads to Columbia to face Missouri on Nov. 21.
"The kids worked so hard, and knowing that we're going to a bowl game, I'm proud of them," Jones said. "We have two obviously very, very important games coming up. The more you win, the more's at stake."