Tennessee on Third Down: Tyler Bray Gets Out of Jail Free

August 31, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Tyler Bray (8) throws a pass in the first quarter against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

The Vols went 9 of 19 (47.3%) on third down in the Georgia Dome, numbers that are significant for a couple of reasons. With only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech left to play tonight, the 47.3% conversion rate was the 9th best number put up this weekend, and only Michigan State (10 of 19) was more impressive in a meaningful game. Speaking of, only the Vols, Michigan State, and Akron had 19 third downs in a game this weekend; BYU and Michigan State both converted 10 third downs, while the Vols and Utah converted 9. So we're among the national leaders in every way possible on third downs.

Historically speaking, 19 third downs is the biggest number the Vols have had in a game in at least five years (cfbstats.com doesn't go back past 2007). But here's what's more exciting: in that same time span, the Vols have converted 9+ third downs just seven times. One was against Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. One was against MTSU last year.

The other five all belong to Tyler Bray:

  • 2010 at Memphis: 9 of 15
  • 2011 vs Montana: 10 of 17
  • 2011 vs Cincinnati: 10 of 13
  • 2011 vs Buffalo: 12 of 16
  • 2012 vs NC State: 9 of 19

Granted, none of these defenses are setting the world on fire. But there does appear to be a trend under Bray: get in trouble, get out of jail free.

After the jump, we'll look at each of UT's third down conversions from the Georgia Dome...

The Vols actually misfired on their first four third down attempts against NC State, meaning UT closed the game on a 9 of 15 run on third down. But look at the trends in these conversions:

  • 2Q 22-7 UT: 3rd and 8, Bray to Patterson for 16
  • 2Q 22-7 UT: 3rd and 6, Bray to Dallas for 7
  • 2Q 22-7 UT: 3rd and 5, Rajion Neal run for 5
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: 3rd and 3, Bray to Hunter for 5 (plus facemask)
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: 3rd and 10, Bray to Hunter for 16
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: 3rd and 10, Bray to Rogers for 15
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: 3rd and 3, Bray to Bartholomew for 6
  • 4Q 32-21 UT: 3rd and 5, Bray to Hunter for 15
  • 4Q 32-21 UT: 3rd and 5, Bray to Lane for 15
Eight of UT's nine conversions came on pass plays. The Vols threw on 3rd and 3 twice and 3rd and 5 twice. This probably isn't shocking news. However, how did we get in those holes? Here are the first down plays on the same nine drives:

  • 2Q 22-7 UT: Devrin Young rush for -2
  • 2Q 22-7 UT: Rajion Neal rush for -1
  • 2Q 22-7 UT: Rajion Neal rush for 5
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: Devrin Young rush for 0
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: Bray incomplete pass
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: Rajion Neal rush for 0
  • 3Q 22-14 UT: Bray to Hunter for 3
  • 4Q 32-21 UT: Rajion Neal rush for 5
  • 4Q 32-21 UT: Patterson rush for 5
Four of UT's nine third down conversions came after a running play went for no gain or negative yardage. In the entire game, the Vols rushed for no gain or negative yardage seven times on first down. Add in two false start penalties on first down, and you can see there's plenty left to clean up.

The good news is, Bray is excellent at converting third downs and the offense doesn't die from a negative play the way it did in the Clawfense or with Matt Simms. And obviously, the Vols are capable of hitting big plays and negating long drives. But if Tennessee can do a better job on first down, they'll open up the playbook much more and not have to rely on Bray to convert third and long. It's good to know he's there if we need him...but a good place to start improving is maybe needing him a little less by eliminating third and long.
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