#OPPORTUNITYISNOWHERE: The Final Chapter

Welcome to a special end-of-season #opportunityisnowhere post in which we forget about weeklies and simply compare Dooley's Year One to Dooley's Year Zero. First, let's calibrate things with a look at the respective schedules:

2011 2010
Montana W 42-16 1-0 (0-0) Tennessee-Martin W 50-0 1-0 (0-0)
Cincinnati W 45-23 2-0 (0-0) #7 Oregon (#3) L 48-13 1-1 (0-0)
@ #16 Florida (NR) L 33-23 2-1 (0-1) #10 Florida (NR) L 31-17 1-2 (0-1)
Buffalo W 41-10 3-1 (0-1) UAB W 32-29 OT 2-2 (0-1)
Georgia (#12) L 20-12 3-2 (0-2) @ #12 LSU (#8) L 16-14 2-3 (0-2)
#1 LSU (#1) L 38-7 3-3 (0-3) @ Georgia L 41-14 2-4 (0-3)
@ #2 Alabama (#2) L 37-6 3-4 (0-4) vs #8 Alabama (#10) L 41-10 2-5 (0-4)
#13 South Carolina (#14) L 14-3 3-5 (0-5) @ #20 South Carolina (#22) L 38-24 2-6 (0-5)
Middle Tennessee W 24-0 4-5 (0-5) @ Memphis W 50-14 3-6 (0-5)
@ #8 Arkansas (#6) L 49-7 4-6 (0-6) Ole Miss W 52-14 4-6 (1-5)
Vanderbilt W 27-21 OT 5-6 (1-6) @ Vanderbilt W 24-10 5-6 (2-5)
@ Kentucky L 10-7 5-7 (1-7) Kentucky W 24-14 6-6 (3-5)
North Carolina L 30-27 2OT 6-7 (3-5)

So what do we have? In 2010, Tennessee played five teams that were ranked at game time. The rankings? #7, #8, #10, #12, and #20, an average of 11.4. Of those five, one (Florida woo) finished the season unranked, two finished two spots lower, and two finished higher. The team lost to every ranked opponent (including Florida) and to unranked opponents Georgia and North Carolina. The team nearly beat LSU (and North Carolina) but also nearly lost to UAB.

In 2011 (not officially over yet, but close), Tennessee also played five teams ranked at game time. The rankings? #1, #2, #8, #13, and #16, an average of 8. Of those five, one (Florida woo) finished the season unranked, and everyone else remained just about who we thought they were with the notable exception of Georgia, who wasn't ranked when we played them but is now ranked #12. The team lost to every ranked opponent (including Florida and Georgia) and to unranked Kentucky.

So 2011 appears to have been a more difficult schedule with one more ranked opponent (by the end of the season) and a higher average ranking. The results were one less win and a consequent lost opportunity for another game. There were no real high points, and there was a definite low point in losing to a horrible Kentucky team. Contrast that to the results for 2010, a season in which the high points were of the moral variety, near victories against good teams that were actually losses, but that also included a forgotten near loss to a horrible UAB team. My conclusion? Just going by results, 2011 was a worse season than 2010 by one game, but it is explained by the fact that the schedule was one game more difficult. And that's not to say anything of the injuries. Your interpretation may vary.

Regardless of how you interpret the results, though, I think it's pretty clear that this year's schedule was at least a little more difficult, and the individual stats we'll look at now should be interpreted with that, and the injuries to our key offensive contributors, in mind.

OFFENSE
Category

2010

2011 Outcome
Rank Result Rank Result
Rushing Offense 105 109.23 117 90.08 Worse
Passing Offense 30 254.54 48 242.58 Worse
Total Offense 75 363.77 102 332.67 Worse
Scoring Offense 58 27.00 107 20.33 Worse
Interceptions Thrown 88 15 75 12 Better
Passing Efficiency 41 136.46 72 125.78 Worse
Fumbles Lost 45 9 8 6 Better
Turnovers Lost 71 24 33 18 Better
Tackles for Loss Allowed 113 7.54 40 5.25 Better
Sacks Allowed 115 3.15 41 1.5 Better
First Downs Offense 92 17.77 97 18.08 Worse
3rd Down Conversion Percentage 88 36.51% 57 40.94% Better
4th Down Conversion Percentage 96 41.18% 88 42.86% Better
Red Zone Offense 104 .75 59 .82 Better
Time of Possession 90 28:52 36 30:45 Better

I'd love to hear everyone's opinions on these. Here are mine. Nine "better" categories to six "worse" categories seems lovely, but the six "worse" are in the categories that matter more. The offense had a better season protecting the ball, protecting the quarterback, and, to a degree, converting key downs. But it had a worse season actually moving the ball, whether on the ground or through the air, which is sort of the point of the game. The argument regarding the passing game, of course, is that the injuries to Tyler Bray and Justin Hunter hurt the team's passing attack (duh) and that fixing that aspect of the game is as simple as getting both of them back healthy. Fixing the passing attack also theoretically improves Total Offense, Scoring Offense, and perhaps even positively impacts First Downs Offense.

The running game, though, is broken and is trending the wrong direction. Honestly, it's been broken for a long time. See A Cloud of Dust Goes Up in Smoke from way back in 2007. As with most things, I blame Steve Spurrier for changing the league. Boo Steve. And Jimmy Ray Stephens for changing our o-line from road-graders to fences. And yes, Phillip Fulmer for hiring Jimmy Ray. But the run game's been broken for a long time, it's not getting any better, and it needs to be fixed. Shouldn't this simply be a matter of, you know, working like heck on it? From everything from having the right attitude about it, to hiring the right coaches, to recruiting the right players, to coaching them to run? Seriously, the thing that gets lost in the video at the beginning of that post linked above is what happened after the Stumble-Fumble. Henry, Henry, Henry, Henry, and oh, yeah, Henry for six. The football complex needs to have those five minutes of video on continuous loop in the trophy case starting now.

Can we do it with just a multi-faceted passing attack? Maybe. But when you look at this year's Alabama and LSU, well they run the ball as well as anyone, and their passing games actually are almost as bad as our running game. But somehow it doesn't matter in reverse. Perhaps it's a matter of the passing game being too dependent on a couple of players whereas a running attack is more of a plug-and-play model. If there's data on a great passing team with a bad rushing game winning consistently, I'd love to see it, and that's not sarcasm. I want to see it. Go. Find. And return with proof or with a truly renewed commitment to the run game. /chrisandhooperraceeachothertocompile

Okay. Defense.

DEFENSE
Category

2010

2011 Outcome
Rank Result Rank Result
Rushing Defense 60 152.54 70 162.67 Worse
Passing Defense 81 229.62 12 177.83

Better

Total Defense 69 382.15 28 340.50

Better

Scoring Defense 56 25.08 38 22.58

Better

Passes Intercepted 19 18 77 9 Worse
Pass Efficiency Defense 30 116.84 49 125.58 Worse
Fumbles Recovered 48 10 59 9 Same
Turnovers Gained 23 28 79 18 Worse
Tackles for Loss 55 6.00 64 5.58 Worse
Sacks 61 2.00 100 1.33 Worse
First Downs Allowed 63 19.62 20 17.25

Better

3rd Down Conversion Percentage Defense 53 39.27% 56 38.89% Same
4th Down Conversion Percentage Defense 71 53.33 51 50.00%

Better?

Red Zone Defense 35 .79 47 .80 Same

This is weird. Rush defense was marginally worse, by about ten yards per game. Not bad, really, considering the schedule. We were worse at generating turnovers, but dramatically better at preventing yards through the air. Scoring defense was just a little under a field goal better. Essentially, it looks like we were just playing safe in the secondary, with some success, which was probably a preemptive concession to mostly losing the battle at the line of scrimmage. NEED MOR MEAT.

SPECIAL TEAMS, ETC.
Category

2010

2011 Outcome
Rank Result Rank Result
Net Punting 62 36.40 102 34.39 Worse
Punt Returns 109 4.06 61 8.13

Better

Punt Return Yardage Defense 56 8.46 89 10.21 Worse
Kickoff Returns 67 21.53 41 22.70 Same
Kickoff Return Yardage Defense 9 18.98 11 18.10 Same
Turnover Margin 36 .31 59 .00 Worse
Fewest Penalties Per Game 56 5.85 54 5.75 Same
Fewest Yards Penalized Per Game 30 44.08 51 46.75 Worse

I don't know how much of that Worse Net Punting is that debacle against Arkansas, but likely not all of it. Everything else is essentially the same or worse with the exception of punt returns, which we doubled all the way to eight yards per return. Put Special Teams on the list with the running game of things to finally remove from the Someday/Maybe file.

So what do y'all think? Now that we've had some time for the sting of the end of the season to subside, did the team improve overall at all? Are we still just searching the soil for bamboo sprouts that aren't scheduled to show until next spring? What do we need to improve the areas that are in need of improving?

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