KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- So many weeks had passed since Tennessee's last victory that the Volunteers needed time to remember the proper locker-room reaction.
"For a minute, I almost thought we'd forgotten how to celebrate," Kelly quipped Saturday after the Vols beat Southern Mississippi 24-10 to snap a four-game skid. "They turned on the music, and people were just standing around. Eventually everybody got into it."
Kelly ran for two touchdowns and 79 yards Saturday as Tennessee (4-5) withstood an injury to starting quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and avoided its first five-game skid since 1988, when the Vols dropped their first six games of the season.
This marked a triumphant comeback for Kelly, who was suspended for a 29-26 loss at Kentucky last week. Kelly had been cited on a misdemeanor drug possession charge last week after police said they found marijuana in his car during a traffic stop.
"Honestly, it hurt me to miss the game last week," Kelly said. "It was a big disappointment for my teammates, my family, everybody. I was hurt when I was watching it. Honestly, I was glad to just be back out there, just being able to go back out to practice and everything."
The victory proved costly. Guarantano's injury resulted in the college debut of freshman Will McBride, who had been on track to redshirt this season.
Guarantano left the game for three plays in the second quarter after getting hurt. He then sat out the entire second half. Tennessee coach Butch Jones said afterward that Guarantano could have returned at the end of the game.
"We expect him to be ready to go," Jones said.
McBride went 1 of 8 for just 13 yards but avoided mistakes as Tennessee didn't commit a single turnover. Guarantano was 9 of 13 for 102 yards.
Guarantano opened the scoring with a 3-yard keeper to cap the game's first series. Tennessee's defense made sure the lead stood by forcing two third-quarter turnovers that resulted in Kelly's touchdowns.
Emmanuel Moseley's 19-yard interception return led to Kelly's 20-yard touchdown run that extended the Vols' lead to 17-3 with 5:15 left in the third.
On the Golden Eagles' next series, Tennessee's Darrell Taylor sacked Keon Howard and forced a fumble that Rashaan Gaulden recovered at Southern Mississippi's 19. Tennessee initially settled for a 30-yard field goal on its ensuing series, but a Southern Mississippi (5-4) personal foul kept the drive alive and eventually led to a Kelly 3-yard touchdown run.
"The turnovers really killed us right there," Southern Mississippi coach Jay Hopson said. "That was really a tough thing to overcome -- bang, bang -- two back-to-back turnovers that gave them a quick short field. They took advantage of it."
Southern Mississippi's only points came on Parker Shaunfield's 27-yard field goal in the second quarter and Kwadra Griggs' 1-yard keeper with 6:45 left in the game. Griggs took over in the fourth quarter for Howard, who went 7 of 22 for 100 yards and had 10 carries for 29 yards.
Southern Mississippi: Penalties killed Southern Mississippi's chances of winning this game. The Golden Eagles had 14 penalties for 120 yards, while Tennessee was penalized just three times for 29 yards. Southern Mississippi's list of penalties included an unsportsmanlike conduct call on coach Hopson, who went from the sideline to the middle of the field to argue about a personal foul called on his team for leaping during a Tennessee field-goal attempt.
Hopson didn't want to comment on the penalty discrepancy or officiating after the game.
"There's no reason to even talk about it," Hopson said. "It is what it is."
Tennessee: Give credit to the defense for forcing turnovers to create scoring opportunities on a night when the offense couldn't move the ball. That defense was playing without starting end Jonathan Kongbo, who was suspended for a violation of team rules. Tennessee still hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in its last 22 quarters.
Tennessee's defense needed to step up its play because its injury-riddled offense continued to struggle.
On the offensive line, tackles Brett Kendrick, Drew Richmond and Marcus Tatum were all sidelined. The Vols' sixth different starting line combination of the season had Trey Smith, Jashon Robertson, Coleman Thomas, Ryan Johnson and Devante Brooks lining up from left to right.
The Vols burned the redshirt of freshman offensive lineman Riley Locklear, who made an appearance in the first quarter when an injury briefly sidelined Brooks.
Tennessee's injury list has grown so long that even kicker Brent Cimaglia was unable to play Saturday. Aaron Medley handled the kicking duties Saturday and made all his extra-point attempts plus a 38-yard field goal.
Southern Mississippi visits Rice.
Tennessee travels to Missouri.