Tennessee Vols vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: statistical game preview

This man may be important this weekend. - Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The statsy preview machine doesn't like the Vols in this one, and the Alabama Crimson Tide defense is like the Borg without the personality.

A weekly look at our upcoming opponent from a statistics perspective. CAVEATS: You'll get tired of hearing this, but yeah, we know that small sample sets preclude concrete conclusions. One game (or even two or three) doesn't provide enough data to approach the predictive accuracy of even a Magic 8 Ball, but that doesn't mean we're not going to look at what little we have. The results from 2012 and 2011 are understandably a mixed bag, but they also suggest that it's a worthwhile endeavor.

Also, this: All of the following information is gleaned exclusively from the official NCAA statistics and the awesome CFBStats.com and does not account for things like injuries, shared playing time, suspensions, and other stuff difficult to see in the stats from a bird's eye view under time constraints. We generally put the "conclusions" and "predictions" at the top of the post, with the data upon which those are based below.

Head to Head Comparisons

Here's how the statsy preview machine did for last week's game between the Vols and the Gamecocks.

Prediction Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 28 230 120 350
South Carolina 35 200 210 410

Actual Results Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 23 146 179 325
South Carolina 21 218 166 384

I'll summarize that as "pretty good on total yards, not so good on score." With that in mind, let's take a look at what it spits out this week for the game against Alabama.

Head-to-Head, from Tennessee's Perspective

Tennessee Logo Alabama Logo Comps Result against Comps Prediction
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Tennessee rushing offense vs. Alabama rushing defense 37 201.71 8 98.29 Florida None Florida None 66
12 100.71 66
Tennessee passing offense vs. Alabama passing defense 111 166.3 9 176.7 South Carolina Florida South Carolina Florida 167
19 199.3 6 172.4 179 154
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Alabama rushing offense 85 181.71 25 211.71 Western Kentucky South Carolina Western Kentucky South Carolina 195
34 202.71 19 224.57 171 218
Tennessee passing defense vs. Alabama passing offense 65 230.1 54 248.7 South Carolina Western Kentucky South Carolina Western Kentucky 194
56 247.3 37 270.6 166 222
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Alabama scoring defense 60 30.4 1 9.7 Florida None Florida None 17
8 16.3 17
Tennessee scoring defense vs. Alabama scoring offense 65 27 16 40.7 Georgia Oregon Georgia Oregon 47
28 36 2 57.6 34 59
Caveats: These are informed guesses rather than mathematical calculations, and this early in the season, the guesses are particularly sketchy. But here's the general analytical framework: We are averaging X in a certain category. The opponent averages Y against that, which is most closely comparable to some identified previous opponent, against whom we did Z. All of that leads to an informed guess labeled as Prediction. And one more time for emphasis: The less data you have, the more sketchy the guess, and the guesses range from ALL CAPS SKETCHY WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS at the beginning of the season to merely lower case sketchy for the last game.

Head-to-Head, from Alabama's Perspective

Alabama Logo Tennessee Logo Comps Result against Comps Prediction
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Alabama rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense 25 211.71 85 181.71 Kentucky Mississippi Kentucky Mississippi 277
108 213.33 80 176.29 299 254
Alabama passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense 54 248.7 65 230.1 Georgia State Kentucky Georgia State Kentucky 333
82 242.7 53 224 296 369
Alabama rushing defense vs. Tennessee rushing offense 8 98.29 37 201.71 Colorado State Arkansas Colorado State Arkansas 108
56 176.57 30 209.88 51 165
Alabama passing defense vs. Tennessee passing offense 9 176.7 111 166.3 Arkansas Kentucky Arkansas Kentucky 84
116 146.6 94 201.5 91 76
Alabama scoring offense vs. Tennessee scoring defense 16 40.7 65 27 Mississippi Virginia Tech Mississippi Virginia Tech 30
72 27.3 5 15 25 35
Alabama scoring defense vs. Tennessee scoring offense 1 9.7 60 30.4 Mississippi Colorado State Mississippi Colorado State 3
72 28.7 45 33.1 0 6

All of the above is compiled using the ever awesome statistical database maintained by CFBStats.com.

When Tennessee runs the ball: We're getting just over 200 yards per game on the ground, but Alabama's allowing a little less than 100 per game. That's the best run defense we've faced all year, but it's only a little better than Florida's, and against Florida we rushed for 66 yards. Yikes. The same analysis from their perspective gives a result of 108 yards, so I'm going to go with 90 yards rushing for the Vols this Saturday.

When Tennessee passes: We're still getting only 164 yards through the air per game. Alabama's allowing 177 or so, which most closely resembles Florida's pass defense, against which we got 154 yards. The result of the analysis from their perspective is 84 (yikes again!), so my prediction is maybe 110 passing yards for Tennessee.

When Alabama runs the ball: We're holding teams to just over 180 rushing yards per game. The Tide are getting just over 210. This is just about in the middle of South Carolina (who's a bit better) and Western Kentucky (who's a bit worse), and those teams rushed for 218 and 171 against us respectively. From Alabama's perspective, the result is 277. I'm going with 220 for the Tide on the ground against Tennessee.

When Alabama passes the ball: Our passing defense gives up 230 yards per game, and Alabama gets nearly 250. This is right next to South Carolina in the rankings, and they got only 166 against us, but had several drops. The result from Bama's perspective is a huge 333 yards, so who knows on this one? Prediction: Let's call it 250 and hope it's not worse.

On the scoreboard for Tennessee: We put up about 30 points per game. They are the absolute best scoring defense in the nation and hold opponents to just under 10 points per game. Florida's not that much worse, though, at 16 points per game, and we got 17 on them. From Bama's perspective, we get a whopping 3 points. I'm going with 7 (only because I can't decide between two or three field goals).

On the scoreboard for Alabama: We're holding opponents to 27 points per game. The Crimson Tide are getting just over 40, which is sort of in no man's land between Oregon (57) and Georgia (36). Those two teams got 59 and 34 (in overtime) against Tennessee. I don't know what to make of all that, to be honest, so let's go with 36.

Eyeballed Predictions

Score Rushing Yards Passing Yards Total Yards
Tennessee 7 90 110 200
Alabama 36 220 250 470

Taking all of that together, it again looks a lot like the current spread, which is 28.5 for this game. It's not quite There's a Monster at the End of This Preview, but it's close. Tennessee's making real progress, but there's still a huge gap between beating a Top 15 team at home and sticking with the program that's won three of the last four national championships at their place.


Alabama Logo
Virginia Tech Hokies 8/31/13 win 35 - 10 coverage
Texas A&M Aggies 9/14/13 win 49 - 42 coverage
Colorado St. Rams 9/21/13 win 31 - 6 coverage
Mississippi Rebels


win 25 - 0 coverage
Georgia State Panthers 10/5/13 win 45 - 3 coverage
Kentucky Wildcats 10/12/13 win 48 - 7 coverage
Arkansas Razorbacks


win 52 - 0 coverage
Strength of Schedule 54
Tennessee Logo
Austin Peay Governors 8/31/13 win 45 - 0 coverage
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 9/7/13 win 52 - 20 coverage
Oregon Ducks 9/14/13 loss 14 - 59 coverage
Florida Gators 9/21/13 loss 17 - 31 coverage
South Alabama Jaguars


win 31 - 24 coverage
Georgia Bulldogs 10/5/13 loss 31 - 34 coverage
South Carolina Gamecocks 10/19/13 win 23 - 21 coverage
Strength of Schedule 14

Well, Tennessee has a much tougher schedule than Alabama does, so we have that going for us, which is nice . . . until you look at what they did to Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, and Mississippi. Not to mention giving no hope to teams like Kentucky and Arkansas.

National Unit Rankings

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Offense (123 ranked) 25 5 211.7 Army 340.1 Auburn 300.1
Passing Offense (123 ranked) 53 7 248.7 Oregon St. 442.1 Texas A&M 377.1
Total Offense (123 ranked) 35 6 460.4 Baylor 714.3 Texas A&M 588.7
Scoring Offense (123 ranked) 16 3 40.7 Baylor 64.7 Texas A&M 46.9
Team Passing Efficiency (123 ranked) 9 3 162.64 Baylor 213.22 Texas A&M 176.45
Passing Yards per Completion (123 ranked) 59 10 12.26 Baylor 19.41 LSU 15.99
Passes Had Intercepted (123 ranked) 7 2 3 New Mexico 1 Kentucky 2
Pass Sacks Allowed (123 ranked) 15 3 1.00 Toledo 0.43 Arkansas 0.75
Tackles for Loss Allowed (123 ranked) 15 3 4.29 Stanford 3.00 Arkansas 3.75
Red Zone Offense (123 ranked) 53 6 0.852 Florida St. 0.971 Auburn 0.897

Offensive observations. Hey, look at that. Total Offense only ranked 35th in the nation and 6th in the SEC. There's decent balance there, but it does look like the run game's the strength. They are efficient, though, and their o-line doesn't let folks mess around in the backfield much.

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Defense (123 ranked) 8 1 98.3 Michigan St. 59.1 Alabama 98.3
Passing Yards Allowed (123 ranked) 9 2 176.7 Oklahoma 149.7 Florida 172.4
Team Passing Efficiency Defense (123 ranked) 13 2 105.85 Michigan St. 88.41 Florida 91.59
Passes Intercepted (121 ranked) 75 7 6 Oregon St.
Missouri 14
Total Defense (123 ranked) 5 2 275.0 Michigan St. 228.0 Florida 273.1
Scoring Defense (123 ranked) 1 1 9.7 Alabama 9.7 Alabama 9.7
Team Pass Sacks (123 ranked) 85 10 1.57 Virginia Tech
Missouri 3.29
Team Tackles for Loss (123 ranked) 100 12 5.0 Clemson 9.6 Auburn 8.0
Red Zone Defense (123 ranked) 4 1 0.636 Bowling Green 0.500 Alabama 0.636

Defensive observations. This is what we've come to know and hate from the Crimson Tide. First in the nation in Scoring Defense. Fourth in Red Zone Defense. Fifth in Total Defense. Top ten in Rushing Defense and Passing Yards Allowed. But look! They suck at tackles for loss and only slightly less so at sacks! So here's the game plan: Play the entire game behind our own line of scrimmage, and they'll never catch us.

Statistic National
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Net Punting (123 ranked) 10 2 40.52 Memphis 43.93 Texas A&M 41.70
Punt Return Defense (123 ranked) 61 8 7.50 Houston -1.86 LSU 1.00
Punt Returns (123 ranked) 14 2 14.53 Kansas St. 24.67 Ole Miss 16.83
Kickoff Return Defense (123 ranked) 20 4 18.58 La.-Monroe 12.00 Vanderbilt 14.82
Kickoff Returns (123 ranked) 20 3 25.00 Miami (FL) 31.35 Mississippi St. 31.25
Turnover Margin (123 ranked) 34 3 0.6 Houston 2.3 Missouri 1.4
Fewest Penalties Per Game (123 ranked) 33 5 5.14 Tulsa
Arkansas 4.25
Fewest Penatly Yards Per Game (123 ranked) 31 6 41.29 Tulsa 20.83 Tennessee 33.14

Special teams and turnovers observations. Oh, look. They're good at this, too. Thanks.

Players to Watch

Category Player National
Rushing Yards (299 ranked) T.J. Yeldon
Kenyan Drake
Derrick Henry
Rushing Yards Per Game (300 ranked) T.J. Yeldon
Kenyan Drake
Derrick Henry
Passing Efficiency (110 ranked) A.J. McCarron 8 164.6
Passing TDs (111 ranked) A.J. McCarron 19 14
Passing Yards (135 ranked) A.J. McCarron 37 1,587
Passing Yards Per Game (135 ranked) A.J. McCarron 48 226.7
Passing Yards per Completion (110 ranked) A.J. McCarron 49 12.60
Total Offense (300 ranked) A.J. McCarron
T.J. Yeldon
Kenyan Drake
Receiving Yards (400 ranked) Deandrew White
Christion Jones
Kevin Norwood
Amari Cooper
O.J. Howard
Receiving Yards Per Game (399 ranked) Deandrew White
Kevin Norwood
Christion Jones
Amari Cooper
O.J. Howard
Receptions Per Game (391 ranked) Christion Jones
Deandrew White
Kevin Norwood
Amari Cooper
Scoring (250 ranked) Cade Foster
Kenyan Drake
T.J. Yeldon

Offensive Observations. You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. And Yeldon and McCarron. But do you know the receivers? No? That's because they're all good and when you share the limelight, no one gets the spotlight. Or something like that.

Category Player National
Interceptions (193 ranked) Vinnie Sunseri 103 0.3
Pass Sacks (83 ranked) A'Shawn Robinson 62 0.6
Solo Tackles (58 ranked)
Tackles For Loss (34 ranked)
Total Tackles (393 ranked) C.J. Mosley 66 8.3

Defense. As we noted last year, the strength of the Tide is its defense, and yet their defensive players to watch chart is a bit sparse. It's because it's a collective, like the Borg, only with a little less personality. And they don't bother with that whole assimilation nonsense. Just destroy, thank you. Vinnie Sunseri is out, by the way, with a torn ACL.

Category Player National
Punt Return TDs (6 ranked) Dillon Lee
Christion Jones
Punt Returns (66 ranked) Christion Jones 17 12.5
Punting (91 ranked)
Kickoff Returns (98 ranked) Christion Jones 12 29.0
Field Goals Per Game (123 ranked) Cade Foster 51 1.1
All Purpose (250 ranked) Christion Jones
T.J. Yeldon
Kenyan Drake

Special teams. Christion Jones is dangerous, having already run one punt back for a score.

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