Georgia just another tough opponent in October for Dooley
Tennessee's interception numbers can be as staggering as you want to make them.
A comparison with the SEC finds that Vanderbilt has a nation's-best total of 14 to UT's one.
Looking for the most absurd takes you to Oklahoma last week against Ball State, where Sooners sophomore Tony Jefferson had two more interceptions in the second quarter, alone, than the Vols have mustered all season.
Within the context of Saturday's game (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.) against Georgia (3-2, 2-1 SEC), Bulldogs safety Bacarri Rambo has three more than the entire Vols' roster.
The Vols (3-1, 0-1) are one of 10 teams in the country with one or fewer interceptions this season. The majority of teams in that group carry losing records, but UT isn't one of them. Neither is No. 7 Stanford, which has zero interceptions but is a legitimate national title contender.
The low number hasn't resulted in a cause for panic among UT's coaches and players, but the Vols would certainly prefer the number to be higher after Saturday.
"The more we emphasize it in practice and the guys understand where they need to be and when they need to be there, the turnovers start coming," defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said. "I don't think it's time to press the panic button."
The Vols' lone interception came in the third quarter of the season opener against Montana. Senior Art Evans jumped on a short pass by Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson and took it all the way back for a touchdown.
Since then, opponents have attempted 99 passes and not one has fallen in the hands of a UT defender.
"We always say interceptions are accidents," Joseph said. "We just need some more accidents to happen right now. When you start over-emphasizing that guys start looking to try to get interceptions and then you start being susceptible to double moves.
"We're OK right now where we're at. Over time, they'll come."
The Vols went just four games without an interception in 2010. All four were UT losses.
During the Vols' four-game winning streak to end the regular season, they intercepted 10 passes and took two back for touchdowns. That run helped the Vols finish the season with a positive turnover margin.
Currently, UT is one of four SEC teams with a negative turnover margin.
"We hadn't been getting the takeaways that we need to get, that's for sure," coach Derek Dooley said. "Our goal right now is to be plus-four, and so we're about five behind what we should be.
"I say should (because) you'd like to be plus-one a game. Reality is that's tough, but you certainly don't want to be in the negative. You're not going to win many games."
Defensive back Prentiss Waggner, who was the Vols' co-leader in interceptions last season with five, said the defensive backs were "more aggressive" near the end of 2010. A combination of trust, experience and comfort with each other allowed them to take risks on certain plays that they might hesitate on otherwise because of a weak support system.
"You can gamble when you know you've got help over the top and things like that," Waggner said. "Basically just having their trust and trust in your guy over your back."
Waggner kept the focus on the secondary, but defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said interceptions are generated by all three units — defensive line, linebackers and, of course, the secondary.
"It's pressuring the quarterback, being aggressive when the ball is in the air, it's affecting the routes of the receivers, it's affecting the pass protection. It's a lot of things," Wilcox said. "It's really not one answer.
"Once you start trying to force the issue — we practice turnovers all the time and we're working on it daily — but if you try and force the issues, sometimes guys will try to make plays they shouldn't and that's when you get beat."
Joseph put a positive spin on the situation as well, particularly when discussing starting cornerback Marsalis Teague. A former wide receiver, Teague has started 12 games at his new position but has yet to register an interception.
"Here's a guy who's just doing what he's supposed to do," Joseph said. "Sometimes a DB that's playing well doesn't get his name called. That's been the case with him.
"When you're covering guys, they don't really throw to your side. I think that's a compliment to him."
The Vols won't have a magic button to press Saturday when they try to disrupt Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw three uncharacteristic interceptions last week against Mississippi State.
Even if UT does add to its interception total, the same strategy might not work the next week against LSU.
That's just how fickle interceptions can be.
"If there was a magic answer to it," Wilcox said, "we would have addressed it already."