Tennessee's defensive coaches call these "sudden-change" situations, and they spend a lot of practice time preparing their troops to deal with them. Apparently, that work is not in vain.
"Sudden change is when there's a momentum play – a turnover that should give the offense the momentum and an opportunity to go out and get easy points," defensive coordinator John Chavis says. "To be honest with you, through the years, we've been at our best in sudden change."
That appears to be the case this year, as well. Consider:
Game 1: A short Tennessee punt from deep in its own territory gives UCLA the ball at the Vol 45-yard line. Two plays gain four yards, then Eric Berry intercepts for Tennessee.
Game 2: UAB intercepts a Crompton pass at the Vol 44-yard line. Three plays lose eight yards, and the Blazers punt the ball away.
Game 2: UAB intercepts another Crompton pass, this time at its own 43-yard line. The Blazers gain 9 and 14 yards on their first two plays but the next three snaps net just 4 yards, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
Game 3: Florida returns the opening kickoff 52 yards to the Vol 44-yard line. The Gators score nine plays later.
Game 3: Florida recovers a Montario Hardesty fumble at the Vol 22-yard line. Three plays net zero yards, and the Gators settle for a 39-yard field goal.
Game 3: After a short punt and a nice return, Florida has the ball at Tennessee's 47-yard line. The Gators score eight plays later.
Game 3: Tennessee turns the ball over on downs at its own 46-yard line. Florida picks up three first downs but is prevented from scoring.
Game 4: A short punt gives Auburn the ball at its own 46-yard line. The Tigers pick up one first down before punting the ball back to UT.
So, why does Tennessee's defense tend to play its strongest under such dire circumstances?
"I think it's because Coach Fulmer lays out the groundwork ... we're going to work those situations in the spring and in the fall," Chavis says. "They (UT defenders) are not unaccustomed to that."
The toughest situation for Vol defensive players is to take a seat on the bench only to be rushed back onto the field due to a quick turnover by the UT offense. Chavis spends a lot of practice time preparing his troops for these emergency situations.
"In a fall scrimmage you may put 'em out there for 10 plays, then get 'em over on the sideline, yell 'Sudden Change' and they're back on the field," Chavis notes. "They understand the importance of it."