Tennessee's defense finally got greedy in Game 3 vs. LSU. The Vols forced three fumbles, recovering two. Moreover, Jonathan Hefney returned an interception 26 yards to the Tiger 2-yard line, setting up a touchdown that turned the momentum UT's way in a 30-27 overtime win.
The Vols came back with more of the same in Game 4 vs. Ole Miss. They again forced three fumbles, this time recovering one. Tennessee also registered two interceptions, with Jonathan Wade returning one of these 19 yards for a crucial touchdown.
After recording just two takeaways in the first two games, Tennessee has registered six in the last two games – two of them leading to Vol touchdowns. Still, Chavis isn't satisfied. When asked which area of his defense needs to make the most improvement, he answered without hesitation.
"The takeaways," he said. "We've improved the last two weeks but if you're going to be an outstanding defense, you've got to do a good job on takeaways."
Program history supports that assertion.
- The 1970 Vols posted a school-record 36 interceptions en route to an 11-1 record and a No. 4 national ranking.
- The 1990 Vols registered a whopping 45 takeaways (21 fumble recoveries, 24 interceptions) en route to an SEC championship.
- The 1998 Vols recovered 19 fumbles – the highest total of the past 25 years – en route to the national title. That team also registered 16 interceptions, a figure eclipsed just twice in the past 13 years.
Just as an abundance of takeaways usually produces an abundance of wins, a shortage of takeaways usually results in a shortage of wins.
- The 1986 Vols recorded the lowest takeaway total of the past 20 years with 18 (4 fumbles, 14 interceptions) en route to a 7-5 record.
- The 1988 Vols recorded the second-lowest takeaway total of the past 20 years with 21 (10 fumbles, 11 interceptions) en route to a 5-6 record.
Although his troops recorded three takeaways last week against Ole Miss, Chavis figures they should've done better. The Vols allowed the Rebels to recover two of their own fumbles and Omar Gaither very nearly reeled in another interception.
"We had some opportunities last week that we didn't take advantage of," Chavis said. "We need to take advantage of those opportunities when they come."