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September 26, 2011Michael Palardy wasn't going to make it home to South Florida for Tennessee's lone open-date weekend, but the Vols' sophomore kicker was going to get away to clear his mind before Saturday's non-conference game against Buffalo (12:30 p.m., CSS).
It's been an up-and-down start for the left-footed Palardy, who has tripled the Vols' touchback total from a year ago with three kickoffs downed this season in the end zone but has made just two of his first four field goals. He was 1-for-2 in Tennessee's 33-23 loss at Florida Sept. 17.
"I think the most important thing for me is consistency. Just focusing on not missing 37-yard field goals like I did at Florida. That was totally uncanny of me and so that's been my main focus," said the former St. Thomas Aquinas standout and U.S. Army All-America selection. "It was just kind of a lack of concentration in technique and I just wanted to make sure of what it looked like before and it just didn't work out in my favor."
Though Palardy missed his only attempt from outside 40 yards this season and also missed a 37-yard try early against Florida, he's drilled two other triples and each of his 14 extra points. Shirking no blame, he said it's unacceptable to just miss a kick within his comfort zone.
"Inside of 45, 47. That's been my consistent point," Palardy said. "You know, 50-plus yard field goals are kind of the tougher ones. That's at every level, NFL or anything. It's hard to kick a 50-yard plus field goal but I should never miss (within range) if I do everything right. It happens, but I shouldn't."
In an effort to curtail the misses and gain greater consistency, Palardy said it's a matter of transferring from the practice field to game day.
"I think just taking what I do in practice and putting it on the field. I think that's just what kickers have to do the best. Sitting there, if you make every kick in practice then you've got to do what you can to make every kick in the game," he said. "I mean that's what I didn't do. I come out here in practice and do really well in practice and then that's what I didn't do in the game. I come out and miss a 37-yard field goal in the game, which I cannot do."
Palardy also is focused on better placement for his kickoffs, though he's largely excelled in that area through the Vols' first three games. Tennessee is fourth in the SEC and 20th nationally, allowing just 17.88 yards per kickoff return. Florida was the first time Palardy didn't strike and place the ball with as much effectiveness on kickoffs.
"In the Florida game, I wasn't" pleased with kick placement, Palardy said. "I couldn't really find a rhythm that game. I don't know why. I couldn't find a rhythm. I didn't place the ball where I wanted to. One went to the 13-yard line and middle of the field, which it shouldn't have. I was just relying on my athletic ability and kind of losing my concentration on taking that ability and applying it to my technique to make sure it's right."
GETTING OFF THE GROUND
While Tennessee's anemic rushing attack has been explored at length, senior tailback Tauren Poole did say the Vols have been encouraged by watching film that improvements can be attained.
"Definitely. We came back and watched the film and (offensive coordinator Jim) Chaney definitely said, he said these are fixable things. So we're not happy about the performance, but we're going to get it fixed," Poole said. "That's coming from the backfield, especially. Everything we can do as a running back and everything we can do up front to become a better football team."
And though he isn't by nature a vocal leader, Poole said he is attempting to communicate more effectively with his young offensive linemen.
"The coaches always tell me to communicate because they know I really don't say much and so I've got to continue to communicate and just tell those guys that I'm for them and that I'm with them," the senior from Toccoa, Ga., said. "And together we can do great things and all we've got to do is stay calm. It seemed like we got a little rattled in that atmosphere at Florida. And that comes with experience.
"I hate to say that we're a young football team, but we've got to continue to play no matter how young we are. We've got to go out there Saturday and continue to play football."
FULLBACK BATTLE, FOCUS
Sophomore Channing Fugate opened the season as Tennessee's starting fullback. Then fourth-year junior Ben Bartholomew staked his claim to the spot prior to the Vols' win against Cincinnati and has started two-straight games.
"It was a little surprising, but I respect the decisions the coaches make and I've just got to come out here and get better each day," said Fugate, who has called the battle a motivating factor for him in practice.
Fugate said he simply is focused on getting better and that he and Bartholomew must be mindful of helping the Vols' ground game improve.
"I need to just work on technique a lot with run blocks, not playing out of control and get a base under me. And playing low," he said. "We take it as a big challenge (to get the running game better), and a lot of it is on the fullbacks. We've just got to clean things up if they're not right and we've just got to get better on that."