As we do every week, on Tuesday Joel examined Tennessee's improvement by looking at the statistical categories in which the Vols currently rank in the top and bottom quartile of college football. For a closer look at how the Vols have grown from Year One to Year Two under Derek Dooley, today we'll examine where the Vols ranked at the midway point of 2010 and 2011 in each major statistical category. Our thanks to Kleph at Roll Bama Roll, who brought up this data during the prep work for our podcast Sunday night.
The two major differences in these numbers: the 2010 team played Oregon in its first six games, while the 2011 team played Cincinnati. The Bearcats still look good, but they're not Oregon good. All the other matchups in the first half of the last two seasons appear to be very even. And second, of course, the first half of 2010 is all Matt Simms, while the first half of 2011 was all Tyler Bray until last week.
So first, the good news - here are the biggest ways the Vols have improved from the first half of 2010 to the first half of 2011:
Areas of Greatest Improvement (all rankings national, out of 120)
Pass Offense: 71st to 25th (207 ypg to 294 ypg)
Pass Defense: 81st to 24th (227 ypg allowed to 191 ypg allowed)
Total Defense: 78th to 43rd (381 ypg allowed to 350 ypg allowed)
Scoring Defense: 75th to 44th (28 points allowed to 23 points allowed)
Punt Returns: 101st to 52nd (5.0 yards per return to 8.91 yards per return)
Kick Returns: 98th to 33rd (19.39 yards per return to 23.67 yards per return)
Sacks Allowed: 116th to 49th (3.83 per game to 1.67 per game)
True story: Montana has thrown for more yards (235) on Tennessee than any other opponent this year. Five teams threw for more than that against the Vols last season, including 429 from UAB and 266 from Georgia in basically three quarters, both in the first half of last year. Some of it has been the style of play of Florida and LSU, but other than two deep balls in isolated coverage from Aaron Murray, Tennessee's downfield pass defense has been very good even without Janzen Jackson.
Other improvements are easy to hang on Tyler Bray and Devrin Young, but we should note that despite all their frustrations in the run game, the offensive line has kept Tennessee quarterbacks much safer this year than last. In fact, the Vols trail only LSU, who is rarely in position to take a sack, in the SEC in that category this season.
About The Same
Total Offense: 97th to 72nd (322 ypg to 383 ypg)
Scoring Offense: 84th to 62nd (23 ppg to 28 ppg)
Rush Defense: 67th to 69th (154 ypg allowed to 160 ypg allowed)
Sacks: 102nd to 90th (1.17 per game to 1.50 per game)
The total offense gains are 100% the result of the passing game, which I included above in the areas of improvement. The Vols are averaging more points only because they scored 45 on Cincinnati instead of 13 on Oregon. The sacks are no surprise.
The rushing defense numbers are actually a little more in our favor this year. The 2010 team gave up 245 rushing yards to Oregon and 219 to LSU. The 2011 team gave up 260 to LSU, but the next highest total is 166 for Cincinnati. The LSU game last week skewed this total; otherwise the Vols have done a better job in run defense than they did last year, and have done so with far less experienced personnel.
Rush Offense: 94th to 114th (115 ypg to 89 ypg)
Punting: 50th to 110th (37.22 avg to 33.42 avg)
Turnover Margin: 53rd to 93rd (+1 to -3)
The run game struggles are well documented. Do we miss Chad Cunningham that much? Apparently the answer is yes, though Matt Darr did a nice job against LSU.
The real issue is turnover margin. This year's team is just boring in this department. In the first half of last year, the Vols picked up ten turnovers and gave it away nine times. In the first six games of this season, the Vols have just five takeaways and eight giveaways.
The biggest problem is that the Vols have just one interception, and that was in the season opener against Montana. And yet, UT's pass defense has shown incredible statistical improvement. Some of that is who we've played on both sides of that stat, but if the Vols could move from containment to takeaways, they'll have an even better chance to continue to improve as a football team overall.
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