There were many things that went wrong for the Vols in College Station on Saturday. But the biggest reason Tennessee lost to Texas A&M 45-38 in double overtime wasn’t because of injuries or penalties. It was because of fumbles.
The Vols fumbled the ball six times and lost five of those fumbles, the exact opposite of what happened at the Battle at Bristol when Virginia Tech fumbled five times and the Vols recovered all five. On the whole, the Vols had seven turnovers in the game, losing five fumbles and tossing an interception in the third quarter and to end the game in double overtime.
Coming into the game, the Vols had lost just six of a possible 25 fumbles on the year. Tennessee had fumbled it 15 times, only losing three, and had recovered seven of the 10 times opponents fumbled the ball. The five lost fumbles are the most the Vols have lost in a single game since the 1997 SEC Championship Game against Auburn.
And it wasn’t just one player, either.
Alvin Kamara, John Kelly, and Josh Dobbs all had fumbles. Kelly’s fumble could’ve been recovered by the Vols, but instead of falling on the loose ball, Dobbs attempted to pick it up and run with it. He couldn’t get control, and the Aggies ended up with it in the end zone for a touchback. Kamara’s fumble happened after a 53-yard catch and run reception. Kamara turned a good play into a spectacular one before getting stripped deep inside Aggie territory.
Tennessee’s luck when it came to recovering fumbles was uncanny coming into the Texas A&M game. The Vols had the lowest percentage of fumbles lost when they had possession in the SEC and the second-highest percentage in fumbles recovered when opponents put them on the ground.
But it seemed like every time the Vols would have any sort of momentum go their way for most of the game, they would put the ball on the ground and give it back to the Aggies.
The Vols’ first 14 offensive possessions saw six turnovers, four punts, and a turnover on downs. After that point, the Vols wouldn’t turn it over again until a Josh Dobbs interception in the second overtime. But the fumbles were too much for a injury-plagued defense to overcome.
Tennessee did force a game-altering fumble of their own late in the fourth quarter. Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams ripped off a big run and was heading into the end zone for a game-sealing touchdown when Malik Foreman punched the ball out of his grip. The ball sailed out of bounds in the end zone, which gave the Vols the ball instead of giving the Aggies a score.
That would be the only time a fumble went Tennessee’s way in the game, however.
Injuries, penalties, and drops all hurt the Vols on Saturday. But Tennessee’s inability to hold on to the ball for three-plus quarters is what truly cost them.
The Vols’ luck finally came to an end on Saturday. Tennessee let the game literally slip through their grasp.