Rebuilding during the hurricane: Tennessee's statistical rankings after Auburn and the bye

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Vols' statistical rankings, through the lens of the scheduling difficulty.

First things first. We're finishing this drill of tracking the Vols' statistical rankings for the entire season. You're tired of it, I'm tired of it, but we have two games left, and so we finish. At this point, I'm less interested in where we stand right now or even the in-season trends than I am in how we now compare to last year in the defensive numbers. Unfortunately, that news isn't good.

Second, Tennessee now owns the second most difficult schedule in college football this season behind only Purdue, which is 1-9. And I'll again point out that the Boilermakers' schedule includes only the following ranked opponents (at the time of the game): #21 Notre Dame, #24 Wisconsin, and #4 Ohio State. (The NCAA ranks schedule difficulty by past and future opponent win-loss records, not by ranking.) That's one Top 5 team and two additional Top 25 teams. Tennessee's schedule features two Top 5 teams (on the road), three additional Top 10 teams, a Top 15 team (which we beat), and one additional Top 20 team. And we're 4-6. Georgia, a preseason national title contender at #5 in the nation, has the nation's fourth most difficult schedule, and they're 6-4 (and if you say they're a Hail Mary-ish play away from 7-3, I'll remind you that they're also a Pig Howard inch away from 5-5). Mississippi State is 5th, and they're also 4-6. If someone wants to do a FanPost with an analysis of the records of the teams with the most difficult schedules, I'll front page it (if it's written well). The NCAA's schedule rankings are here.

So yeah, schedule matters. It can steal the national title hopes away from really good teams, and it can absolutely demoralize teams trying to rebuild. It also has an impact on the statistical rankings below. It's one thing to build something; it's another to try to build it during a hurricane.

With that context in mind, let's take a look at where the team stands in the statistical rankings.

What Tennessee is doing well

I lied about not being interested in the in-season trends. I think that the penalty categories, which have gotten progressively worse as the season has progressed, tell the story and are the probably the consequence of one or more of the forms of exhaustion. It's symptomatic.

Other than that, I think we can safely say that Tennessee is (1) better in the red zone this year than last on defense, and (2) more opportunistic (and probably more aggressive) in the passing game. Passing Yards Allowed may be a little better than last year, but don't be fooled by that 24 this week. That's a mere consequence of playing Auburn and not being able to stop their run game.

Categories in which Tennessee is in the Top 30
Category 2011 2012 AP WKU OR FL SA GA BYE SC AL MO AU
Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game 51 67 - 2 4 3 4 10 9 9 9 13 14
Red Zone Defense 47 115 - 5 19 30 26 24 24 20 22 21 18
Passes Intercepted 86 56 12 1 2 5 1 2 6 6 12 17 19
Pass Sacks Allowed 40 5 23 18 5 11 19 25 21 23 19 19 19
Passing Yards Allowed 12 111 17 38 102 80 82 78 78 63 70 56 24
Fewest Penalties Per Game 56 92 - 1 3 2 8 17 18 21 16 25 26
Turnovers Gained 91 95 26 1 3 3 3 6 12 14 17 21 29

New Arrivals: Passing Yards Allowed
Dropped out: Kickoff Returns (from 23 to 34), Net Punting (from 26 to 57), Punt Return Defense (from 27 to 95!)

Where Tennessee needs major improvement

Oy, this chart is killing me. Most of this is offense, and the 2012 green that's turned red is a consequence of losing Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jim Chaney. But the defensive categories are what's really problematic. Pass Sacks, Scoring Defense, and Total Defense are actually not much, if any, better than last year, which was (we thought) historically bad.

Fun observation: Punt Return Defense went from green straight to red ths week, thanks to the group hypnosis the punt coverage unit suffered against Auburn. Gus Malzahn, Mesmerizer.

Categories in which Tennessee is in the Bottom 30
Category 2011 2012 AP WKU OR FL SA GA BYE SC AL MO AU
4th Down Conversion Pct Defense 48 86 34 70 113 105 91 107 105 111 119 119 120
Kickoff Return Defense 7 47 76 77 78 88 76 76 76 73 95 93 117
Passing Yards per Completion 102 90 103 105 105 102 102 105 101 109 115
Team Passing Efficiency 69 31 25 46 72 100 100 100 103 106 110 112 113
Passing Offense 50 15 101 108 114 114 112 111 111 109 110 108 108
Rushing Defense 69 85 19 43 65 75 71 80 80 83 85 100 108
Team Tackles for Loss 67 48 38 29 55 56 81 72 72 65 89 100 108
Team Pass Sacks 100 98 41 48 50 77 92 101 101 75 93 105 105
First Downs Offense 98 20 12 26 43 65 35 41 86 78 83 83 104
3rd Down Conversion Pct 56 81 13 26 52 56 58 59 61 70 82 93 102
Total Offense 104 18 51 65 78 103 93 90 87 89 96 96 101
Passes Had Intercepted 63 83 1 39 17 99 112 107 99 87 96 102 100
3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense 57 50 10 60 81 103 96 89 91 79 93 101 98
Scoring Defense 36 104 1 15 73 73 74 75 75 65 78 79 96
Punt Return Defense 85 67 2 43 93 80 59 33 34 30 31 27 95
Total Defense 28 107 11 29 90 82 78 79 80 75 83 86 94

New Arrivals: First Downs Offense, Scoring Defense, Punt Return Defense, Total Defense
Climbed out: Turnovers Lost (from 101 to 81), First Downs Defense (from 94 to 78)

THE BIG FAT MIDDLE

And here's the rest, for tracking purposes.

Categories in which Tennessee is in the Middle of the Rankings
Category 2011 2012 AP WKU OR FL SA GA BYE SC AL MO AU
Tackles for Loss Allowed 38 9 54 29 7 11 4 4 3 34 22 31 31
Kickoff Returns 41 80 1 7 19 29 28 36 37 41 26 23 34
Fumbles Lost 6 28 57 32 56 92 81 89 75 59 44 57 34
Punt Returns 61 22 28 40 60 56 47 41 41 44 45 42 44
Rushing Offense 116 61 11 23 29 46 34 32 29 37 41 52 49
4th Down Conversion Pct 91 80 - -

1

43 42 4 4 4 10 47 56
Fumbles Recovered 71 113 - 22 48 15 28 37 56 47 43 54 57
Net Punting 104 52 7 101 104 95 72 44 42 35 27 26 57
Turnover Margin 59 88 24 3 4 29 41 53 49 34 41 64 57
Team Passing Efficiency Defense 14 10 71 72 36 37 38 27 49 58 58
Red Zone Offense 58 29 1 59 52 63 68 73 75 59 51 65 59
First Downs Defense 18 86 8 39 83 88 98 106 68 70

88

94 78
Turnovers Lost 20 58 25 31 32 103 112 106 94 77 83 101 81
Time of Possession 37 116 55 70 45 84 85 78 82 70 82 92 85
Scoring Offense 106 22 20 13 41 59 59 55 51 60 72 88 86

Players in the Top 30

Rajion Neal indeed lost his last spot in the Top 30 for Rushing TDs this week. That leaves our punter, Michael Palardy, as the MVP of the team. Palardy even added a Top 30 category this week with Field Goal Percentage.

Player Stat 2011 2012 AP WKU OR FL SA GA BYE SC AL MO AU
Michael Palardy Punting 19 26 22 8 7 13 10 11 9
Devaun Swafford Punt Return TDs 5 5 6 6 6 10
Michael Palardy Field Goal Percentage 27
Rajion Neal Rushing TDs 28 12 21 22 19 28
Rajion Neal Rushing Yards 19 11 19 24 26
Rajion Neal Rushing Yards Per Game 15 25 23 26
Brian Randolph Interceptions 3 14 25 21 28 19 29
Max Arnold Fumbles Recovered 23 25
Vincent Dallas Kickoff Returns 12
Rajion Neal Scoring 14
Dontavis Sapp Fumbles Recovered 23
Brent Brewer Forced Fumbles 24
Dontavis Sapp Forced Fumbles 24
Rajion Neal Rushing Yards 15 27
Justin Worley Passing Efficiency 28
Daniel Hood Interceptions 7
Malik Foreman Interceptions 7
Justin Worley Points Responsible For 13
Devrin Young Punt Returns 28 21
Daniel Hood Passes Defended 21
Marlin Lane Scoring 21
Marlon Walls Tackles For Loss 30
A.J. Johnson Tackles 4
Byron Moore Interceptions 13
Cordarrelle Patterson Kickoff Returns 14
Cordarrelle Patterson All-Purpose Runners 16
Tyler Bray Total Offense 19
Justin Hunter Receiving Yards Per Game 22
Tyler Bray Passing Efficiency 29
Austin Johnson Interceptions 23
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