Yes, I am a broken record. I think third downs were the key to the game yesterday. The fake punt was the turning point, but we had a chance to come back and win. Third downs were the difference. So I'm taking a lot at our third down performance on both sides of the ball, and hopefully some useful information comes out of it. First the initial stats.
Tennessee 3rd down conversions: 2/13 (15%)
Florida 3rd down conversions: 8/14 (57%)
Ouch. But there's more. . .
Tennessee 3rd and 1-3: 2/3 (67%)
Tennessee 3rd and 4-7: 0/4* (0%)
Tennessee 3rd and 8-12: 0/2 (0%)
Tennessee 3rd and 13+: 0/4 (0%)
*This includes a 3rd and 5 where we got the necessary yards but Poole fumbled.
Florida 3rd and 1-3: 1/2 (50%)
Florida 3rd and 4-7: 1/3 (33%)
Florida 3rd and 8-12: 5/7 (71%)
Florida 3rd and 13+: 1/2** (50%)
**This includes a play where we didn't even have to play defense because the snap was so terrible.
So, what do those numbers tell us?
My first point here surprises me a bit. Both teams had roughly the same number of 3rd downs, but 54% of our third downs required only short or medium yardage, whereas 64% of theirs required long or very long yardage. This indicates that our offense was actually better at eeking out short but positive yardage on first and second down. I'm sure they had more plays of 5+ yards to give themselves conversations after only two downs, but we were the team that was more consistently giving ourselves 2-3 yards and giving ourselves a shot on 3rd down. If we didn't convert on second down, we were in range that should've given us a chance. If they didn't convert on second down, it meant they had been completely stuffed twice. And that happened a lot. Our defense very, very often were able to stop them for almost nothing on first and second down and saddle their offense with third and long. This evidences a very solid run defense, as we well knew.
Now our first and second down defense was more encouraging, but they blew us out of the water on third downs, despite being faced with tougher situations. Our offense faced 3rd and medium (4-7) four times over the course of the game and never came up with a conversion. That hurts. We faced 3rd and long six times and never converted, but that's more expected. Third and medium is a better opportunity, and it's one we failed to take advantage of at all over the course of the day. Why? Some of it may be attributed to Simms' inaccuracy, which was certainly a problem, but I'm more apt to chalk it up to our offensive line having an extremely poor day against their defensive line. We didn't get much in the running game, but we chipped away a little bit (I think we averaged 3 YPC when sacks are excluded). When we had to pass, Simms had no time to throw. He was sacked six times (I think this is right) and had to evade trouble even on the big plays we made. Our offensive line started two freshmen and two sophomores, along with another freshman as the first off the bench, so they have time to learn. But they need to learn. This performance will make it hard to win games. In addition to their time for development, another positive is that we will likely not face another defensive line like Florida's (at least no more than one) for the rest of the year.
Now on the other side of the ball, we were sticking the Gators in tough situations all afternoon, and they were making the most of it. Take out the bad snap, and Florida was 6/8 on 3rd and 8+. They converted 75% on third and long! Again, I attribute this to line play. Our defensive line was not able to get enough push to threaten Brantley, and with all that time, he was extremely accurate in picking apart a defense that was clearly worried about giving up big plays. So we gave up small plays, and far too many of them. I don't know whether we want our DBs playing tighter or whether we just need to hope the D-line can get more pressure, but something has to change as the season progresses in our 3rd down defense. This just isn't going to win football games.
Finally, I want to take another look at where those failed stops occurred in the game, so we can see how it changed things. We have no idea what we could've done with more third down conversions, but we know we would've had more opportunities. But how did the third down conversions work out for the Gators? They converted one third and long (and one third and medium) on their first touchdown drive, two third and longs on their second touchdown drive, and another on their final touchdown drive. That's 5/6 on third down on three drives, including 4/4 on third and long, leading to 21 of their 31 points. Ouch. Also, on their first and third TD drives, they got the ball in our territory. That means that Florida did not score a touchdown without either being given the ball in our half or converting at least one third and long along the way. I think this makes the importance of field position and third down defense painfully obvious. I'm sure CDD and CJW know this, and I certainly hope both will improve as the season progresses. If they do, it'll be because of better play from both lines, and it will result in wins.