Turnovers costly vs. Spurrier

Research shows that better than 80 percent of National Football League games are won by the team committing the fewest turnovers. The percentage is probably similar for college games.

Avoiding turnovers is especially crucial when you're playing a Steve Spurrier-coached team. No one knows this better than Tennessee's coordinators, who will be facing The Ol' Ball Coach and his South Carolina Gamecocks tonight at Neyland Stadium.

John Chavis was in his third game as Tennessee's defensive coordinator when the Vols faced Spurrier's Florida Gators on Sept. 16, 1995 at The Swamp. Tennessee led 30-21 at the break but two second-half fumbles by Jay Graham opened the floodgates, enabling the hosts to score six second-half touchdowns en route to a 62-37 romp.

David Cutcliffe, now in his second stint as UT's offensive coordinator, was serving in the same capacity that fateful day in Gainesville. He readily admits that few coaches in college football are more adept at turning turnovers into TDs than Spurrier.

"If you turn the ball over or give him the ball in good field position, he's going to score a lot of points," Cutcliffe said earlier this week. "That's certainly an offensive responsibility going into this game."

Meanwhile, one of Tennessee's primary defensive responsibilities will be to force some South Carolina turnovers. Vanderbilt forced four last weekend, resulting in a stunning 17-6 upset of the sixth-ranked Gamecocks.

"Vanderbilt did a really nice job in the ball game," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer noted, "and South Carolina was its own worst enemy."

Chavis concurred.

"You can't turn the ball over four times and expect to win," the coordinator said. "If we can get them to agree to give us four turnovers, I can tell you it will be a good outcome."

The odds of Tennessee getting four turnovers tonight appear remote, however. The Vols rank 10th among the 12 SEC teams in turnovers forced with nine (four fumbles, five interceptions). Chavis can't explain the low number.

"We're working on it," he said. "We've got guys that are trying to strip the ball. We're getting our hands on balls in the secondary. We need to start catching some of those balls. We need to start getting some balls on the ground.

"That is a big concern. If you're going to be good on defense, you've got to create turnovers, and we're not doing that right now."

Fulmer has noticed.

"We work on it and we talk about it every week," he said. "It gets back to somebody breaking free on a pass rush and blind-siding the quarterback. It gets back to a linebacker really closing and knocking that thing out of there … or a defensive back tipping the ball and another defensive back being there to get the tip… playing the ball and intercepting it.

"Believe me, we're very conscious of it. We're working on it."

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