Even so, Tennessee couldn't put the game on ice until James Wilhoit hit a 34-yard field goal with 41 seconds left. While it's true that the Vols played well enough to win, they'll have to play much better this weekend to beat a Vanderbilt team that has scored 85 points the past two weekends. That's 12 points more than Tennessee has scored (73) in its last five games combined.
The Commodores allow a lot of points but that won't matter if the Vols stop themselves, something they've done with alarming regularity this season. Against Memphis they fumbled three times (losing one) and threw two interceptions (one of which was negated by a penalty).
Not all of Tennessee's mistakes were physical. Two of the biggest were mental. A roughing-the-passer penalty set up the field goal that put Memphis ahead 16-14 late in the third quarter. The Vols also incurred a fourth-quarter holding penalty at the Tiger 21-yard line that nearly put them out of range for the game-clinching field goal.
Tennessee's ground attack averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against the defensively challenged Tigers. Meanwhile, the Vols' revolving-door policy at quarterback continued. Erik Ainge would've thrown two interceptions in the first quarter except that the second was negated by a penalty. Still, head coach Phillip Fulmer had seen enough. Rick Clausen took over at the start of the second quarter and took every snap the rest of thereafter.
Tennessee's offense tends to make a lot of costly mistakes and very few big plays – a dangerous combination. Even when the Vols win, they win ugly. Fulmer concedes that his team lacks discipline but insists it does not lack toughness.
"The team needs to become more disciplined," he said. "It's not a toughness thing. It's just that we need to put ourselves in position to win games, rather than putting ourselves in position to lose games."
The Vols put themselves in position to win against Memphis and made just enough plays to do so. But the task will be tougher this weekend against Vanderbilt and next weekend at Kentucky.
"We got a W," linebacker Omar Gaither said, "but we can't act like this is the end. We've still got two more games we need to go get."