"I almost pulled a muscle getting out there to him … trying to grab him," the Vol head coach said, only half joking.
After trailing for most of the first half, Tennessee pulled in front 17-16 with 41 seconds left to intermission. Fulmer was content to go to the break with a one-point lead. Apparently, Rico McCoy was not.
On the final play of the half, the Vol linebacker intercepted a Hail Mary pass by Southern Miss quarterback Jeremy Young. McCoy started upfield on his return but saw several Golden Eagles in his path. Incredibly, he turned and flung an ill-advised lateral in the direction of a Vol defensive back.
The loose ball could've resulted in a go-ahead touchdown for the Golden Eagles but Tennessee managed to avert disaster by retrieving the ball. Ultimately, there was no "lateral" damage.
"I take no credit for Rico trying to toss that ball at the end of the half," Fulmer deadpanned.
Asked what he told McCoy following the misguided maneuver, the Vol coach quipped, "You couldn't even print what I said to him."
In addition to his interception, McCoy recorded a team-high nine tackles – once grabbing Young in mid-air and slamming him onto his back.
Tennessee's defense made a dramatic turnaround midway through the game. After being torched for 246 yards and 16 points in the first half, the stop unit allowed just 108 yards and three points in the second half.
McCoy attributed the strong finish to "guys settling down" after being too hyped up in the first two quarters, then added: "I made mistakes early in the game."
Including one that nearly left Phil Fulmer with a pulled muscle.