Tennessee's 'explosive' offense trying to fix turnover troubles

Georgia defensive back Maurice Smith, left, recovers the ball after Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara, right, fumbled it in the first half of their Oct. 1 game in Athens, Ga. Kamara had one of the Vols' five lost fumbles last Saturday at Texas A&M.

KNOXVILLE - In what so far has been anything but an ordinary football season for Tennessee, the Volunteers managed to lose a game despite rolling up nearly 700 yards of offense.

Certainly the outcome at Texas A&M would have been different if not for Tennessee's five lost fumbles and two interceptions.

The Vols flirted with a program record for total offense yet were undone by seven turnovers in the double-overtime defeat against the Aggies, and Tennessee certainly will focus on fixing its turnover troubles with top-ranked Alabama's ball-hawking defense coming to Neyland Stadium on Saturday.

"We saw how explosive we could be, putting up (almost) 700 yards of offense last game, but obviously the turnovers slowed us down in scoring points," quarterback Josh Dobbs said Tuesday. "We see that as long as we execute and we don't hurt ourselves or shoot ourselves in the foot, we can move the ball and do what we want to do on offense.

"But we have to continue to execute and protect the football, of course, better than we did last game."

If Tennessee doesn't, the Crimson Tide will leave Knoxville with their 10th straight win in the traditional "Third Saturday in October" rivalry.

In nearly all of its facets, Alabama's dynasty under Nick Saban has been remarkable, and the Tide are on an impressive streak with at least one non-offensive touchdown in eight straight games dating back to last season.

Alabama recorded multiple defensive touchdowns in road conference wins at Ole Miss and Arkansas. Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen scored on fumble returns in the victory in Oxford. In Fayetteville Tim Williams scooped up a fumble and scored and Minkah Fitzpatrick returned one of his three interceptions 100 yards for another score.

Tennessee, meanwhile, has fumbled more times (21) than any other team in the country and already surpassed last season's turnover total (12) with 16 giveaways in six games this season.

"There's a sense of urgency every week when we talk about ball security," running back Alvin Kamara said. "We're going to do the same things we do every week. Starting with me and Dobbs, we're going to strain and put more of an emphasis on it this week. Guys have to focus on holding onto the ball.

"A lot of it comes from trying to make something happen, Starting with my fumble, (I'm) just trying to make things happen with the ball in my hands and kind of getting a little bit lazy with it. We've just got to tune in to protecting the ball."

Throughout the tenure of fourth-year coach Butch Jones, the Vols have had what they called "Maxim One" periods in practice - an homage to legendary coach Gen. Robert Neyland's staples of winning football, the first of which states the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win - where the focus is ball security on offense and forcing turnovers on defense.

The continual attention to it makes the recurring issues this season even more frustrating.

"We can't blame the coaches by any means," tight end Ethan Wolf said. "It's something that we maybe as players need to take a little bit more pride in and understand that it truly can win and lose ballgames. We work on it in practice, but I would definitely see the intensity in those periods picking up this week and throughout the rest of the season."

Jones believes the fumbling problems aren't due to a lack of effort or desire, but rather the result of players trying to make a play and sacrificing ball security when doing so.

"We have to continue to harp on it, stress it, practice it," Jones said. "We'll practice it every single day. Alabama is very opportunistic, and they do a great job of hunting the football."

If Tennessee's turnover troubles continue, Alabama will continue its streaks and add to its tally of 30 defensive touchdowns in Saban's tenure.

"Nick Saban and their coaching staff, their names just speak for themselves," Dobbs said. "You combine that with physical guys who are fundamentally sound, and it's kind of the perfect formula for a great defense. When you know that going into the game, you know that you're going to have to focus and lock in on your details and lock in on your execution.

"We've seen throughout the season that we've kind of been the team that has shot our own selves in the foot."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.