#OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE: Monitoring Tennessee Football's Improvement

Remember that first game of the season when Tennessee fumbled six times but didn't lose any of them? And we thought, uh-oh, we're going to have problems giving away the ball on running plays? Well, either that Montana game was fluky to the fluke degree or Dooley and Co. inflicted enough pain on the team to earn ball security for an entire season, because Fumbles Lost is now The Thing That 2011 Tennessee Football Does Best. We don't put the ball on the ground. We've also been treading water on the broader Turnovers Lost category, but it's not so much because we haven't been throwing interceptions but because the defense has started generating turnovers of their own. And the defense has definitely treanded upward this season and is holding steady. I'm a little perplexed that Pass Defense ranks higher than Rush Defense (#66) because it just feels like we're better against the run. Perhaps it's just a matter of the teams we've played. Anyway, here's the list of things Tennessee's doing (and done) well this season.

Categories In Which Tennessee
Was In The Top Quartile This Season
Category

2010

MT CIN FL BUF GA LSU AL SC MTSU AR VU
Fumbles Lost - - - - - - T-30 - 27 20 9 6
Kickoff Return Yardage Defense 9 14 12 21 18 13 24 11 13 12 9 10
Turnovers Lost - - - - - - T-21 - - 23 21 23
Pass Defense - - - - - - 24 - 24 17 23 22
First Downs Allowed - - - - 20 22 30 30 - 24 29 29
Time of Possession 90 14 5 10 5 12 - - -   28 30
Kickoff Returns - - - - - - - - 30 26 - -
Red Zone Efficiency 104 T-7 - - 23 17 16 9 20 27 - -
Scoring Defense - - - - - 29 - - - 28 - -
Offense Third-down Efficiency - 11 4 7 T-1 4 5 23 - - - -
Passes Had Intercepted - - - - T-17 T-6 21 - - - - -
Passing Efficiency - 7 5 13 8 13 22 - - - - -
Passing Offense 30 16 9 11 11 11 25 - - - - -
Turnovers Lost - - - - T-26 14 - - - - - -
Defense Third-down Efficiency - - - - - 30 - - - - - -
Defense Fourth-down Efficiency - - T-1 19 T-7 - - - - - - -

There's also this: Tennessee is 31st in Tackles for Loss Allowed. Also odd because you'd think it would be worse for a team ranked near the bottom in rushing offense. Huh. Anyone care to posit an explanation? I'm thinking that it shows that the main problem with our running game isn't so much getting started but finishing. Too many really short runs and an almost complete lack of big plays on the ground.

And now for the Tennessee players in the top 30:

Player Stat MT CIN FL BUF GA LSU AL SC MTSU AR VU
Da'Rick Rogers Total Receiving Yards - - - - 29 28 - - 28 26 24
Da'Rick Rogers Receiving Yards Per Game - - - 17 23 29 - - - 29 26
Austin Johnson Interceptions - - - - - - - - - - 18

Da'Rick Rogers, say hello to Austin Johnson.

#OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE

Categories In Which Tennessee
Is (Or Was) In The Bottom Quartile
This Season

Category 2010 MT CIN FL BUF GA LSU AL SC MTSU AR VU
Rushing Offense 105 74 - 105 98 114 114 115 119 118 116 117
Net Punting - - - 96 116 105 110 97 94 92 109 103
Punt Return Yardage Defense - - - - - - - - - - 101 103
Scoring Offense - 27 22 - 21 - - - 96 96 102 101
Total Offense - - - - - - - 91 102 97 96 98
First Downs 92 66 11 12 11 22 - - - - 91 94
Pass Sacks - - - - - 91 T-90 93 - 96 95 -
Passes Intercepted - - - 93 111 T-113 T-116 114 109 95 94 -
Turnovers Gained - - - - 98 107 115 114 104 94 92 -
Turnover Margin - - - - - - T-93 91 - - - -
Red Zone Efficiency Defense - - - - - - T-105 - - - - -
Fewest Yards Penalized Per Game - - - 98 - - - - - - - -
Fewest Penalties Per Game - - - 97 - - - - - - - -
Offense Fourth Down Efficiency 96 59   94 - - - - - - - -
Punt Returns 109 64 - 91 - - - - - - - -

So we're down to six categories in which Tennessee finds itself in the bottom quartile: Rushing Offense, Net Punting, Punt Return Yardage Defense, Scoring Offense, Total Offense, and First Downs. The latter three should auto-improve when Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter both return to join Da'Rick Rogers on the field in 2012. The punting game, well, that may only be fixed with a visit to the Colquitt Clone Farm, and Rushing Offense is the most vexing of all. Perhaps the Pistol formation is the answer. But I fear the answer is actually Vandy at home on senior night. There is no doubt that Tennessee did better on the ground against Vanderbilt, and that is indeed encouraging. It's hard to register a lot of movement in the national season-long rankings with a single game, but it was better. How much better, I'm just not sure yet.

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