Art Evans' 37-yard interception return for a touchdown Saturday night against Montana was the fifth "pick-six" recorded by Big Orange defensive backs over the past 14 games, dating to the 2010 opener. Incredibly, Vol DBs scored more touchdowns during that span than Vol tight ends (2), quarterbacks (1) and fullbacks (0) combined.
Perhaps Tennessee's defensive backs are frustrated ball-carriers. Or maybe they're quality athletes who are too slick for a bunch of offensive players suddenly faced with the unaccustomed task of making a tackle. Or maybe it's something else ...
"It's just being in the right place at the right time," Vol secondary coach Terry Joseph said following Wednesday's practice.
Being in the right place at the right time explains the pick, but how do you account for the six?
"We emphasize it," Joseph said. "When we do it (return an interception) in practice we reward 'em and we make a big deal out of it."
Junior safety Prentiss Waggner, who set a program record by returning three interceptions for TDs last season, has his own theory about the Vols' pick-six success.
"I think it's some athleticism and some pre-snap reads," he said.
Evans' interception in the opener was mostly the latter as he made the Grizzlies pay for becoming a bit predictable.
"They'd been running those little screens all game," Waggner recalled. "Art, being a veteran guy who watches a lot of film, jumped the play because he was the trap corner right there."
For decades Tennessee players were coached to yell "Oskie" when they picked off a pass. This alerted their defensive teammates to find the guy with the ball and throw a block for him. There is no such code word these days, however.
"No," Joseph said, "but we've got a few rules when we pick it off. One is to look for the quarterback because we want to try and get him on the ground (with a good block) first. Then we want to get to the near sideline. From there, it's all about athletic ability."
Waggner said there's no need to yell "Oskie" these days because it's easy to tell when a Vol teammate has picked off a pass.
"Once you hear the crowd screaming like we made a big play, you just turn and (block) the closest guy to you," he explained. "If you're a D-lineman, you look for the quarterback."
No play in football demoralizes an offense more than suffering a pick-six. Likewise, no play in football energizes a defense more than recording one.
"It charges us up a lot," Waggner conceded. "When Art made that play I ran as fast as I could to the end zone, trying to beat him to the end zone. It was big for me to see him make that play because Art has been through a lot and he's like a big brother to me. That was a big plus for me and for the team."