KNOXVILLE — JaRon Toney heard the number and briefly paused.
The walk-on defensive back was part of a Tennessee defense that allowed a program-worst 721 yards to Troy on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.
"My reaction? That's a lot of yards," Toney said.
It wasn't enough to deny the Volunteers a win, as Tennessee's offense scored twice in the final three minutes to rescue its embarrassing defense.
"We won today, so I don't really care about that [number]," said nickelback Eric Gordon. "We showed up when it mattered the most."
While it's true the Vols did stop the Trojans on four of their last five possessions, it's hard to ignore how bad the Vols were defensively Saturday. The secondary, though far from completely at fault, took the brunt of it. Troy quarterbacks Corey Robinson and Deon Anthony combined for 496 yards and three touchdowns on 38-of-60 passing.
In his first career start, Vols freshman cornerback Daniel Gray was beat on a couple of deep passes and committed pass-interference and personal-foul penalties. Justin Coleman, the other corner, didn't fare much better. Troy receivers Eric Thomas and Chip Reeves totaled 291 yards and three touchdowns on 12 receptions.
"We've got a lot of problems in the back end," said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley.
Tennessee began the day 103rd nationally and 13th in the SEC in pass defense, and those ranks are sure to drop after the nation's No. 26 offense torched them for more gaudy numbers.
"We were playing quarters and they were dinking it all around and we just couldn't slow them down, so then we go to single-high and bring some pressure, and they throw it over our corners' head," Dooley said. "Then we play two-deep and they run the draw and can't tackle them. We really didn't have an answer for anything."
Tennessee played with extra defensive backs nearly the entire game, which meant plenty of plays for Gordon and Toney. The Vols rolled Gray, Coleman and fifth-year senior Prentiss Waggner in at cornerback to no avail. Tennessee had no sacks and hardly came close most of the day.
The Vols managed to outdo their previous three performances, in which Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, Alabama's AJ McCarron and South Carolina's Connor Shaw threw for career highs in yardage.
"We knew it was going to be statistically a tough game," Dooley said, "but not that tough."
Tailback Marlin Lane registered his first 100-yard rushing game Saturday. The sophomore ran 19 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner. Lane had managed just 110 yards on 30 carries against Alabama and South Carolina in filling in for injured Rajion Neal.
"I just want to do better each week to go out there and prove a point and keep averaging more yards each game and playing physical," he said. "I was just wanting to go out there and just help do whatever I can with Rajion being banged on. We're just there for each other to keep it going."
Neal, who hurt his ankle against Mississippi State, entered on the sixth play of the game, later caught a touchdown pass and finished with 32 yards on seven carries.
In addition to Neal, right guard Zach Fulton returned to the starting lineup after missing the South Carolina game with an ankle injury suffered against Alabama.
Tailback/returner Devrin Young didn't play Saturday after suffering a concussion in practice this past week. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and Alton "Pig" Howard handled kickoff return duties, though Troy mostly kicked it short to avoid giving Patterson a chance at a return. Justin Hunter replaced Young on punt returns and had a 9-yarder in the fourth quarter.
"It happened on Tuesday in practice," Dooley said of Young's injury. "Once Thursday came around, we knew he wasn't going to play. That worried about us fielding those balls."
Though he was named as a suspect in a campus theft of a cell phone earlier this week, freshman cornerback Deion Bonner dressed, though he didn't play. Freshman defensive lineman Trent Taylor (undisclosed) and Omari Phillips (indefinite suspension) did not dress. Redshirt freshman Alan Posey (undisclosed) also was not with the team.
Defensive lineman Trevarris Saulsberry hopped off the field in the third quarter after suffering an apparent injury to his leg. He did not return.
Tennessee's captains were linebacker Herman Lathers, linebacker Channing Fugate, tight end Mychal Rivera and receiver Zach Rogers. ... Reserve linebacker Dontavis Sapp was credited with a blocked punt after a low kick by Troy punter Will Scott deflected off his helmet. It was Tennessee's first blocked punt since the Alabama game in 2008. ... Linebacker A.J. Johnson's 13 tackles put him over 100 for the season. The sophomore entered the game fifth nationally and first in the SEC with 11 tackles per game. ... Troy was 10-of-19 converting on third downs and was successful in situations where it needed 12, 16, 8 and 15 yards for a first down. ... The Vols set a season high in penalties (10) and penalty yardage (98).
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...