Finding Hope: in which I convince you that our in-game adjustments are really, really good (on defense)

Over the last two years, there has been much weeping and gnashing of teeth about Tennessee's second half adjustments. On offense, this is probably justified. However, I would like to argue that it can only be justified on offense. In fact, the ability of the defense to adjust in-game is one of the team's greatest strengths. Against teams other than LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas, the defense has produced elite results after the initial adjustment. (I think it's fair to exclude these three, as the combination of the talent gap and the offense's inability to do anything at all put the defense in an impossible position.) Yes, I said elite, and I do not exaggerate. 

As usual, I have plenty of statistics to support my claim. However, this is structured a little differently. I'll put what I find most striking here in the body, while an assortment of statistics grouped game-by-game lurks after the jump for anyone interested in reading them. 

In their last eight games against BCS competition outside the top 5 (or wherever Arkansas ends up), the Tennessee Volunteers have given up ten drives of 60+ yards after the first two possessions, an average of 1.25 per game. Only eight have also been longer than three plays, an average of 1.00 per game. On the first two possessions, the Vols have given up nine drives of 60+ yards, an average of 1.13 per game. Only eight have also been longer than three plays, an average of 1.00 per game. Let that sink in. Tennessee gives up just as many long drives (measured by both distance and number of plays) in the first two possessions as they do the entire rest of the game. 

In five of those eight games, the Vols' average yards allowed per possession has been less than half of what was allowed on the first drive. In two of the remaining three, the Vols' average yards allowed per possession for the game has been less than half of what was allowed per possession in the first three possessions. The lone exception was this year's South Carolina game, in which Tennessee only allowed one drive of more than 55 yards, with that drive coming on the Gamecocks' second possession of the third quarter. 

[On a somewhat tangential note, speaking as much to the whole game defense as to the ability to adjust, Tennessee has been allowing significantly fewer long drives recently. In the last three games against BCS competition, the Vols have allowed only four drives of more than 55 yards. Two of those four came in the first three possessions.]

That means that the on the first two possessions of a game, the Vols give up a 60+ yard drive 56% of the time and a 60+ yard 4+ play drive 50% of the time. In the rest of the game, the Vols give up a 60+ yard drive 13% of the time and a 60+ yard 4+ play drive 11% of the time. That means that on the first two drives, UT fans can expect to give up a a long drive (measured by distance) more than half the time. In the rest of the game, we can expect to give up a long drive once every seven or eight possessions. 

The take home message can be one of two things. The pessimist can see that Justin Wilcox may be a bit weak on scouting, as the opening salvo goes wrong more often than not. Everyone, however, should note that opponents had better get their shots in early, because unless they're a legit national title contender, their offense isn't doing much after the first half of the first quarter. I'm not sure where to find statistics that track number of 60+ yard drives allowed and number of defensive possessions, so I can't say exactly where a 1 in 7.5 average would put the UT defense on a national scale, but I'll wager it's competitive with the big boys. Or at least the first big boys after Alabama and LSU. For what it's worth, I looked up Georgia's performance against Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Georgia Tech. They allowed 13 drives of 60+ yards in 70 defensive possessions, or an average of 1 in every 5.4 possessions. 

Before giving my final conclusion, I'll close with what I consider to be the most mind-blowing stat I found. In the last six games under consideration (that is, all six games in the 2011 season), outside of the first two possessions, the Vols have given up exactly two touchdown drives of more than 60 yards and more than 3 plays. Two. In six games. To me, that's incredible. 

And now my final conclusion: Justin Wilcox is very, very good at responding and adjusting to what an offense throws his way. And that's with a young and injury-riddled defense. And I am correspondingly very, very excited about the future on that side of the ball. 

As promised, more stats after the jump, with limited commentary here and there. 

2010 Kentucky first drive: 10 plays, 80 yards, touchdown. 

  • 50% of total scoring drives, 50% of total 50+ yard scoring drives, 25% of total 50+ yard drives
  • 20% of total yards on 12% of total plays and 9% of total possessions
2010 Kentucky first two drives: 26 plays, 158 yards, one touchdown. 
  • 50% of total scoring drives, 50% of total 50+ yard scoring drives. 50% of total 50+ yard drives
  • 40% of total yards on 31% of total plays and 18% of total possessions
2010 North Carolina first drive: 3 plays, 72 yards, touchdown. 
  • 50% of regulation touchdown drives, 50% of total scoring drives of 60+ yards, 50% of total drives of 60+ yards
  • 19% of total yards on 4% total of plays and 7% of total possessions
2011 Cincinnati first drive: 3 plays, 80 yards, touchdown
  • 33% of touchdown drives, 50% of touchdown drives of more than 25 yards, 33% of total 50+ yard drives
  • 20% of total yards on 4% of total plays and 9% of total possessions
2011 Cincinnati first two drives: 8 plays, 160 yards, two touchdowns
  • 67% of touchdown drives, 100% of touchdown drives of more than 25 yards, 67% of total 50+ yard drives
  • 40% of total yards on 11% of total plays and 18% of total possessions
2011 Florida first drive: 9 plays, 80 yards, touchdown
  • 33% of touchdown drives, 50% of touchdown drives of more than 50 yards, 100% of touchdown drives of more than 2 plays and more than 50 yards, 33% of total drives of more than 50 yards, 50% of total drives of more than 2 plays and more than 50 yards.
  • 23% of total yards on 14% of total plays and 8% of total possessions
2011 Florida first two drives: 21 plays, 148 yards, 10 points
  • 33% of touchdown drives, 50% of touchdown drives of more than 50 yards, 100% of touchdown drives of more than 2 plays and more than 50 yards, 67% of total drives of more than 50 yards, 100% of total drives of more than 2 plays and more than 50 yards.
  • 43% of total yards on 33% of total plays and 15% of total possessions
  • This game, FWIW, inspired this post. I got really sick of people saying that Tennessee was thoroughly dominated by a bad offense. A bad offense took it to Tennessee (taking advantage of a pair of freshman linebackers) for half a quarter and did very little the rest of the way. They got nearly 70% of their yards on less than a quarter of their possessions (the first two drives and Rainey's long touchdown). 
2011 Georgia first drive: 14 plays, 62 yards, field goal. 
  • 25% of total scoring drives, 33% of total 40+ yard scoring drives, 50% of total scoring drives of more than 40 yards and more than 3 plays, 33% of total 40+ yard drives, 50% of total drives of more than 40 yards and more than 3 plays.
  • 17% of total yards on 22% of total plays and 13% of total possessions. 
2011 South Carolina first drive: 5 plays, 20 yards, no score. 
  • 0% of total scoring drives, 16% of total 20+ yard drives, 0% of total 55+ yard drives (there was one). 
  • 6% of total yards on 7% of total plays and 9% of total possessions. 
2011 Vanderbilt first three drives: 26 plays, 122 yards, no score
  • 0% of total scoring drives, [undefined]% of total scoring drives of 40+ yards, 100% of total drives of 45+ yards
  • 43% of total yards on 38% of total plays and 23% of total possessions
  • Yes, that "undefined" means that Vanderbilt had no scoring drives of 40+ yards. They had only one drive of more than 45 yards (their third drive) in the entire game, and it resulted in a missed field goal. The defense was completely dominant in this game.
2011 Kentucky first drive: 15 plays, 62 yards, field goal. 
  • 50% of total scoring drives, 50% of total drives of 25+ yards.
  • 29% of total yards on 24% of total plays and 8% of total possessions.
  • Yes, that means that Kentucky only had two drives of more than 25 yards. And they won. If you see anyone blaming the defense, you have good reason to never listen to anything else they say. Ever. 
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