Tennessee snapped its four-game losing streak with a 24-10 win over Southern Miss at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.
"I see it everyday with these kids. I see the grind, I see the attitudes, I see the practice habits. It's the culture that's kicked in, they understand work ethic, they understand what it's all about," head coach Butch Jones said after the game.
"That's why it was particularly pleasing to kind of sit back and watch them sing the fight song. You never can take winning for granted so I was excited that they were able to experience that with all the hard work they put into it."
The Vols moved to 4-5 (0-5 SEC) with the win, avoiding the program's first five-game losing streak since 1988. Tennessee can still become bowl eligible for the fourth-straight season with at least two wins in its final three games.
Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano left the game with an apparent ankle injury and did not play in the second half.
Guarantano put the Vols on the board early with his first career rushing touchdown, capitalizing on good field position after Evan Berry returned the opening kickoff for 46 yards.
Tennessee led 10-3 at the half and freshman Will McBride took over at quarterback with Guarantano injured.
The Vols offense generated only 210 yards behind a makeshift offensive line. Both of Tennessee's starting tackles, Drew Richmond and Brett Kendrick, were out for the game, adding to the attrition they were already dealing with on the offensive line. Freshman Trey Smith moved over from right guard to left tackle and redshirt freshman Devante Brooks played right tackle. Another freshman, Riley Locklear, also played at times. The Vols were down to only six scholarship offensive lineman.
Tennessee's defense stepped up to provide some momentum. Emmanuel Moseley picked off a Southern Miss pass and returned it to the 20-yard line where John Kelly would run it in for a Tennessee touchdown on the next play.
The defense again set up great field position on the next drive when Darrell Taylor forced a fumble and Rashaan Gaulden recovered it at the Golden Eagles' 19-yard line.
Tennessee initially settled for a field goal but a pair of penalties on Southern Miss extended the drive and Kelly scored again, this time from four yards out.
"It was huge to generate the turnovers but also the field position was key. It sparked some momentum and we needed them to step up and they were able to do it and I was excited for the kids that we were able to turn that into seven points," Jones said.
The Vols scored three touchdowns and kicked one field goal on four red zone trips.
Kelly finished with 79 rushing yards on 20 carries.
McBride completed just one of eight passes for 13 yards in his collegiate debut.
Southern Miss committed 14 penalties for 120 yards.