Tennessee Vols at Oregon Ducks: Statistical game preview

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Vols are almost certainly overmatched against the #2 Ducks, but if they can make the most of free yards and extra plays, keep the Oregon offense in front of them, and play the game in the red zone, they may be able to come home with their heads held high.

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 NCAA statistics 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.

Sketchy Conclusions

  • Guard the ground. So far, the Ducks' offensive numbers indicate a strong preference for the ground game, for which they rank extremely high nationally. Their passing game is only middle of the road so far.
  • Red zone! Red Zone Offense may (or may not) be something to watch. Their numbers there aren't very good, but that could be because the Ducks don't need no red zone.
  • Do your yoga. Tennessee's defense under Butch Jones to date is stronger in the red zone than it is outside of it, suggesting a bend-don't-break philosophy. If (if!) the Ducks are even a degree weaker in the red zone, bend-don't-break becomes even more important. That all makes some sense intuitively, as smaller spaces for teams that thrive on open spaces have to be uncomfortable. Rusty from Addicted to Quack on last night's podcast called it "making them play in a phone booth" (although he wasn't talking about the red zone but the play around the line of scrimmage). But yeah, less space with these guys is better.
  • SO KEEP THEM IN FRONT YOU. To force the game into the red zone, the defense will need to keep Oregon from making big plays and bypassing the red zone altogether.
  • Penalties. There is currently a wide disparity between the two teams' propensity to give away free yards and extra plays to their opponents by way of penalties. Tennessee ranks first in that category, and the Ducks are in the cellar. Those yards and tries could add up.
  • Sigh. Even with all of that, the Ducks are almost certainly just too good for the Vols to beat at this time, but playing well will go along way toward providing evidence that the program is in fact on the right track.

Predictions

  • Oregon 42, Tennessee 24.

Schedule and Animated Drive Charts

Oregon Logo
Nicholls Colonels 8/31/13 win 66 - 3 coverage
Virginia Cavaliers 9/7/13 win 59 - 10 coverage
Tennessee Logo
Austin Peay Governors 8/31/13 win 45 - 0 coverage
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 9/7/13 win 52 - 20 coverage

So both Tennessee and Oregon have played an FCS opponent and another team that's probably in the "decent" category. Both dominated their opponents offensively and defensively, although WKU was a tougher chore for the Vols than Virginia was for the Ducks. Plus, you have to put a quirky asterisk next to any game that included seven turnovers by the opponent. If you didn't know we were talking about a team ranked second in the nation and one that is unranked and trying to climb out of a smoking crater, you might make the mistake from looking at those two schedules that the teams have similar resumes. I guess they do at this point in the season, but the national polls have weight here.

National Unit Rankings

OFFENSIVE RANKINGS
Statistic National
Rank
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Offense (123 ranked) 2 1 425.0 Navy 444.0 Oregon 425.0
Passing Offense (123 ranked) 56 9 239.5 California 472.5 California 472.5
Total Offense (123 ranked) 2 1 664.5 Baylor 736.5 Oregon 664.5
Scoring Offense (123 ranked) 3 1 62.5 Georgia Tech 70.0 Oregon 62.5
Team Passing Efficiency (123 ranked) 44 8 151.70 Georgia Tech 267.96 Arizona St. 206.00
Passing Yards per Completion (123 ranked) 12 2 15.97 Navy 35.50 Utah 17.41
Pass Sacks Allowed (122 ranked) 1 1 0.00 Auburn et al 0.00

Oregon et al

0.00
Red Zone Offense (123 ranked) 66 7 0.833 Akron et al 1.000 Stanford et al 1.000

Offensive observations. First, it looks like the Ducks are primarily a ground team. An extremely good ground team, but still. They're in the top three in Rushing Offense, Total Offense, and Scoring Offense, but their Passing Offense is ranked only 56th. When they do pass, though, they get a bunch of yards from doing it. They also don't allow sacks, which is bad news for a team that has struggled with making them.

I don't generally include Red Zone Offense here, but I wanted to note it for this game because it's one area on offense (along with Passing Offense) in which the Ducks don't rank well. That could be because they don't need the red zone, thank you very much, because they're always scoring directly from the middle of the field and bypassing the red zone altogether, but hey. Somebody should look into the details on that and help us get a clearer picture. It could be important, especially for a bend-but-don't-break defense.

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
Statistic National
Rank
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Defense (123 ranked) 30 5 105.5 Southern California 15.0 Southern California 15.0
Passing Yards Allowed (123 ranked) 61 7 215.00 Alabama 59.00 Washington St. 77.00
Team Passing Efficiency Defense (123 ranked) 19 5 88.8 Alabama 30.6 Washington St. 72.8
Total Defense (123 ranked) 38 7 320.5 Wisconsin 162.5 Arizona St. 167.0
Scoring Defense (123 ranked) 7 3 6.5 Wisconsin et al 0.0 Arizona St. 0.0
Team Pass Sacks (104 ranked) 4 3 4.00 Southern California 5.50 Southern California 5.50
Team Tackles for Loss (121 ranked) 22 4 8.0 Baylor 13.0 UCLA 11.0

Defensive observations. Well this is more like it. Keeping in mind who they've played (which in this instance cuts against them), Oregon's defense doesn't look to be spectacular. Last year's passing attack would have had a fighting chance against a team not defending the pass at a level commensurate with their #2 national ranking. Total Defense is only 38th, and I'm guessing that those rankings for Sacks and Tackles for Loss will take a hit when they go up against Tennessee's offensive line. On the other hand, they do keep points off the board, and that's what matters most.

SPECIAL TEAMS AND TURNOVERS RANKINGS
Statistic National
Rank
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Net Punting (120 ranked) 61 4 38.00 Texas A&M 52.00 California 41.90
Punt Returns (115 ranked) 44 3 9.25 Kansas St. 47.00 UCLA 19.25
Kickoff Returns (121 ranked) 41 2 23.20 Alabama 54.50 Stanford 36.00
Turnover Margin (123 ranked) 5 2 3.0 Arizona St.
Georgia Tech
4.0
4.0
Arizona St. 4.0
Fewest Penalties Per Game (123 ranked) 100 8 8.00 Arizona St.
Tennessee
1.00
1.00
Arizona St. 1.00
Fewest Penatly Yards Per Game (123 ranked) 113 11 80.50 Arizona St. 5.00 Arizona St. 5.00

Special teams and turnovers observations. I have this notion that Oregon is fantastic on special teams because of their speed and their use and understanding of space and angles, but so far, the numbers don't really bear that out.

I haven't included penalties in this section in the past, but I wanted to include it today to show the disparity between Tennessee's #1 ranking in the category and the Ducks being actually bad there. Hey, we'll take free yards and do overs. As many as we can get.

Players to Watch

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
OFFENSE
Rushing Yards Per Game (300 ranked) De'Anthony Thomas 
Marcus Mariota 
Byron Marshall 
Ayele Forde
20
25
70
231
126.0
117.5
77.5
37.5
Passing Efficiency (118 ranked) Marcus Mariota 47 147.5
Passing Yards (135 ranked) Marcus Mariota 50 433
Passing Yards Per Game (135 ranked) Marcus Mariota 56 216.5
Passing Yards per Completion (118 ranked) Marcus Mariota 8 16.65
Total Offense (297 ranked) Marcus Mariota 
De'Anthony Thomas 
Byron Marshall
16
130
193
334.0
126.0
77.5
Receiving Yards Per Game (395 ranked) Josh Huff
Bralon Addison 
Keanon Lowe
49
184
285
86.5
48.0
33.0
Receptions Per Game (371 ranked) Josh Huff
Bralon Addison 
Daryle Hawkins
Keanon Lowe
137
289
371
371
4.0
2.5
2.0
2.0
Scoring (156 ranked) De'Anthony Thomas 
Marcus Mariota 
Alejandro Maldonado
Bralon Addison
5
74
127
156
15.0
9.0
7.5
6.0

Offensive Observations. QB Marcus Mariota is good. Really good. At a lot of things. RB De'Anthony Thomas is also a workhorse, and it looks like the Ducks will spread the ball around to multiple carriers. But Thomas and Mariota will get the bulk of the carries. When passing, Josh Huff appears to be Mariota's favorite target.

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
DEFENSE
Interceptions (39 ranked) Rodney Hardrick 
Dior Mathis 
Terrance Mitchell
39
39
39
0.5
0.5
0.5
Pass Sacks (73 ranked) Tony Washington 13 1.3
Solo Tackles (87 ranked)
Tackles For Loss (84 ranked) Tony Washington 48 1.5
Total Tackles (375 ranked) Derrick Malone Jr. 
Tony Washington 
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
14
375
375
11.5
5.5
5.5

Defense. There are multiple guys on the team ranking nationally for interceptions, but that stat category is particularly volatile early in the season. Watch defensive lineman Tony Washington breaking through the line of scrimmage, and then watch for linebacker Derrick Malone to clean up whoever gets past the line.

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
SPECIAL TEAMS
Punt Returns (82 ranked) Bralon Addison 18 12.3
Punting (82 ranked)
Kickoff Returns (101 ranked) Keanon Lowe 18 28.3
Field Goals Per Game (89 ranked) Alejandro Maldonado 53 1.0
All Purpose (250 ranked) De'Anthony Thomas 
Marcus Mariota 
Josh Huff
Byron Marshall 
Keanon Lowe
24
91
185
204
242
156.50
117.50
86.50
81.50
75.50

Special teams. Well, forget what I said about not being good at special teams, because Bralon Addison does rank 18th in the nation in punt returns.

Head to Head Comparisons

Tennessee Logo Oregon Logo
Comps
Result Against Comps
Prediction
UT rush v. Oregon rush defense 277.5
(#23)
105.5
(#30)
WKU
(228)
(#110)
240 170
UT pass v. Oregon passing yards allowed 137
(#108)
215
(#61)
WKU
(173)
(#34)
142 170
Oregon rush v. UT rush defense

125
(#43)

425
(#2)
WKU
(193.5)
(#54)
171 300
Oregon pass v. UT passing yards allowed 177
(#38)
239.5
(#56)
WKU
(246.5)
(#53)
222 220
UT scoring offense v. Oregon scoring defense 48.5
(#13)
6.5
(#7)
WKU
(39)
(#109)
52 24
Oregon scoring offense v. UT scoring defense 10
(#15)
62.5
(#3)
WKU
(27.5)
(#72)
20 42

Again with the 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.

This week's example: We're averaging 277.5 yards on the ground. Oregon gives up only 105.5 per game, good for a national ranking of #30. The closest comp is our only FBS opponent, WKU, but that's really not even close enough to be considered a cousin of a comp because their rank is 110. Still, it's all we have. Against WKU, we ran for 240 yards. The only thing left to do is basically split the difference, so I'm going with a prediction of 170 yards rushing for the Vols.

So I have the Vols getting 340 yards and the Ducks getting 520, which meets the eyeball test. I figure that against their defense, we'll get only about half the points we've been getting and that our defense (hopefully) should be able to hold them to fewer (but not too many fewer) points than their previous two opponents.

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