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Nick Saban: Tennessee has made progress, but turnovers are holding them back

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Syndication: Montgomery Mickey Welsh, Montgomery Advertiser via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Nothing like a game against Alabama to stop the bleeding, right? Just a week after being upset and blown out by Kentucky, Tennessee gets to face the No. 2 ranked Crimson Tide. It couldn’t come at a more uncertain time for the Volunteers, who suddenly have more questions than answers.

What was supposed to be another step forward season for Tennessee is now in jeopardy of falling to pieces in Jeremy Pruitt’s third year. On paper, the roster looks ready to at least be somewhat competitive with the current SEC powers, but they’re being held back by one thing. We all know what that is, and Alabama head coach Nick Saban does too.

“Well, I think they have made progress,” Saban said of Tennessee on Monday. “I think you look at what a team does down in, down out, how the players play. They’re playing with a lot of effort, toughness. They’re very well-coached. They’re in the right spots. But I think when you turn the ball over in this game — I don’t care if it’s us or them or whoever it is — it’s really hard to overcome.”

Tennessee’s defense was pitching a shutdown against Kentucky, but the offense handed the Wildcats 17 free points in the first half. It was something Tennessee couldn’t overcome, continuing a theme from the previous week. The Vols took a lead into halftime against Georgia, but the wheels fell off after three second half Jarrett Guarantano turnovers.

Jeremy Pruitt said after both games that he wouldn’t expect his team to beat any team in the country with those turnover numbers. Nick Saban expanded on that thought from Pruitt on Monday.

“We do a little chart every week and show our players the record of every team in the country who’s +3, +2, -3, -2, 0 turnover, and all you have to do is look at that chart and it’s very telling in terms of the impact that turnovers have on the game,” Saban said. “So, I think that’s been their issue, and it’s not the rest of their team. It’s not how they’re capable of playing. It’s not the progress that they’ve made. It’s just taking care of the ball.”

Without the turnovers, Tennessee is likely sitting here at 3-1 and we all feel totally different about the direction of the program. Instead, after seven turnovers in the last three halves of football, we’re questioning everything.

Alabama ranks 19th in the nation with a +3 turnover margin, while Tennessee ranks 50th with a -1 on the year. For a team with an offense as limited as Tennessee’s, that’s a category that the Volunteers need to win each week. With the current quarterback situation though, it seems like a tough ask.