KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee's imperfect start to the 2016 season continued on Saturday with an ugly win against Ohio, 28-19.
Only when Josh Dobbs hit Josh Malone for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter could the Volunteers exhale a little bit.
The same effort simply won't get the job done the next four weeks, when Tennessee hosts Florida before going to Georgia and Texas A&M and hosting Alabama.
There were a disconcerting rash of injuries to defensive stars like Cameron Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin to go along with more problems on the offensive line and a list of mistakes long enough to keep fourth-year coach Butch Jones and his staff up late into Saturday night.
Malone was a bright spot with a pair of touchdown passes, and a shorthanded defense did enough to force four first-half field goal attempts and allowed just 118 yards and seven points in the second half.
A promising first 38 seconds fizzled into a sloppy, disheartening performance for Tennessee.
The Vols take a narrow 14-12 lead into halftime against Ohio after a forgettable half filled with more discouraging play from the offensive line and a rash of disconcerting injuries.
The Vols only needed three plays to take a 7-0 lead, but aside from a 68-yard touchdown drive and some bend-but-don't-break defense the first half was very disappointing.
Tennessee was set to take over with the 7-0 lead after a quick three-and-out, but a facemask penalty before the punt extended the drive, which was later helped by an offsides penalty on third-and-2.
Mistakes by a shorthanded secondary helped two other drives end in field goals as a coverage bust led to a 42-yard completion and Emmanuel Moseley was flagged for pass interference.
Dobbs overthrew Malone narrowly on a sure touchdown pass, and then took a bad sack on a drive ending in an ugly miss of a 55-yard field goal by Aaron Medley.
Preston Williams had an easy catch bounce off his hands for an interception Ohio turned into a field goal, and Coleman Thomas and Brett Kendrick were beaten badly for two of the Bobcats' three sacks.
The last three possessions of Tennessee's offense all went three-and-out and traveled minus-7 yards.
Louie Zervos kicked field goals of 38, 29, 30 and 30 yards for all of Ohio's points.
The mistakes were compounded by a rash of injuries to an already shorthanded team.
The Vols lost star cornerback Cameron Sutton to a leg injury in the first quarter. The senior went down after making a tackle and did not return. Later in the half he limped to the locker room.
Tennessee also lost star linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin for the rest of the half after he slowly walked off the field after covering a punt.
Starting defensive tackle Danny O'Brien was slow to get up after a play later in the second quarter.
Reserve linebacker Quart'e Sapp hurt his left knee while on the kick return team in the second quarter.
Tennessee finally scored to take a 21-12 lead midway through the fourth quarter as quarterback Josh Dobbs improvised and took off for a 13-yard touchdown run.
The Bobcats answered right back, though, to march down the field and pull back within 21-19 late in the third quarter on a touchdown pass by quarterback Greg Windham.
It the first touchdown of the day for the visitors, who kicked four short field goals in the first half.
*Tennessee will be shorthanded in today's game.
Defensive back Malik Foreman has been suspended for today's game for violating team rules.
Wide receiver Josh Smith (ankle) and cornerback Justin Martin are out today, joining linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. (ankle), who is in a boot and on crutches, defensive end LaTroy Lewis (ankle) and offensive tackle Chance Hall (knee).
The absence of two defensive backs mean there could be an increased opportunity for freshmen Marquill Osborne and Baylen Buchanan. Osborne will be the backup to Rashaan Gaulden at nickel. Buchanan is now the third corner behind Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley.
*The Vols also will shake up their starting offensive line.
Based on warmups the starting five, from left to right, will be Brett Kendrick, Jashon Robertson, Dylan Wiesman, Jack Jones and Coleman Thomas.
Thomas goes from center to tackle, Kendrick flips sides, Wiesman slides down to center and Jones takes a spot in the starting lineup. The odd man out is Drew Richmond. The redshirt freshman started the first two games at left tackle.
Tennessee likely will continue to rotate up front after doing so against Virginia Tech last week.