Tennessee Vols vs. South Alabama Jaguars: statistical game preview

Al Messerschmidt

The Jaguars are no pushovers, but the Vols should have enough to eventually pull away on the scoreboard.

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

  • South Alabama's offense is ranking merely average against a relatively weak schedule so far, so it's not unreasonable to think that the defense should be able to stop these guys.
  • The Jaguars appear to be stronger (top 25) against the run than the pass (middle of the pack), which should be interesting for a Tennessee team that can run but can't pass.
  • Tennessee will have to be disciplined on kickoff and punt return coverage because South Alabama has some weapons there.
  • Expect quarterback Ross Methany to run about 1/3 as much as he throws but to pick up fairly large chunks of yardage when he does throw.
  • Expect yards gained to be uncomfortably close, although the Vols should eventually pull away in points because of their red zone efficiencies on both ends of the field.

Predictions

  • Tennessee 42, South Alabama 28

Schedule

South Alabama Logo
Southern Utah Thunderbirds 8/29/13 loss 21 - 22 coverage
Tulane Green Wave 9/7/13 win 41 - 39 coverage
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 9/14/13 win 31 - 24 coverage
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

Well, then. South Alabama has not played Oregon or Florida, so there's that, which is nice. And they lost to Southern Utah and beat Tulane by only two points. However, they did also beat Western Kentucky by a touchdown. Yeah, we beat the Hilltoppers by 32 points, but that result comes with multiple asterisks of the turnover variety. As you'll see below, the relative strength of schedules to date do in fact give Tennessee the edge here, but not by as much as you might attribute to having Ducks and Gators on your schedule.

National Unit Rankings

OFFENSIVE RANKINGS
Statistic National
Rank
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Offense (123 ranked) 72 4 166.3 Navy 398.0 Arkansas St. 240.3
Passing Offense (123 ranked) 59 3 238.3 Baylor 444.3 Troy 310.5
Total Offense (123 ranked) 65 5 404.7 Baylor 751.3 Western Ky. 473.8
Scoring Offense (123 ranked) 61 4 31.0 Baylor 69.7 La.-Lafayette 36.5
Team Passing Efficiency (123 ranked) 60 2 137.80 Baylor 239.63 Troy 158.20
Passing Yards per Completion (123 ranked) 35 1 13.24 Navy 23.69 South Ala. 13.24
Passes Had Intercepted (123 ranked) 55 3 3 5 teams tied 0 Arkansas St.
Texas St.

1
Pass Sacks Allowed (123 ranked) 74 4 2.00 4 teams tied 0.50 Troy 1.00
Tackles for Loss Allowed (123 ranked) 66 3 20 Navy 4 Western Ky.
La.-Lafayette
18 
18
Red Zone Offense (123 ranked) 91 5 0.750 10 teams tied 1.000 Arkansas St. 0.867

Offensive observations. There are no overly frightening things to be found in South Alabama's offensive rankings and values. Below average in rushing, average at almost everything else with a few exceptions: (1) Passing Yards Per Completion (which is only 35th); (2) Pass Sacks Allowed; and (3) Red Zone Offense, in which they are actually approaching "bad" territory.

Conclusions? Feeling pretty good about the defense's ability to stop these guys, especially after a somewhat heartening performance against an elite Gator defense last week.

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
Statistic National
Rank
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Rushing Defense (123 ranked) 23 2 108.0 Florida 55.3 Texas St. 62.0
Passing Yards Allowed (123 ranked) 92 5 264.0 Florida St. 115.7 Western Ky. 187.5
Team Passing Efficiency Defense (123 ranked) 65 3 127.65 Michigan St. 72.63 Texas St. 107.79
Passes Intercepted (102 ranked) 35 3 4 Northwestern 10 La.-Lafayette 6
Total Defense (123 ranked) 52 1 372.0 Michigan St. 188.8 South Ala. 372.0
Scoring Defense (123 ranked) 79 2 28.3 Louisville 6.8 Texas St. 17.0
Team Pass Sacks (121 ranked) 25 1 2.67 Northern Ill. 4.67 South Ala. 2.67
Team Tackles for Loss (122 ranked) 56 5 6.0 Baylor 11.3 Arkansas St. 7.8
Red Zone Defense (110 ranked) 102 7 0.923 Southern California 0.400 Texas St. 0.571

Defensive observations. So far, South Alabama is ranking pretty well against the run. They allow a lot of passing yards, but they are also pretty good at picking off passes. They're also dangerous in the sacks category, although our offensive line is likely better at preventing them. Overall, they're about average in Total Defense, a little worse in Scoring Defense, and absolutely wretched in the red zone.

Conclusions? Yards and points should be easier to come by this weekend than the last two, but it appears that they're strongest (against the run) where we're strong and weakest (against the pass) where we're weak. I'm guessing that this will mean that we should expect a balanced offensive attack until we figure out which of the strength or weakness yields the best advantage.

SPECIAL TEAMS AND TURNOVERS RANKINGS
Statistic National
Rank
Conference Rank Value National Leader Value Conference Leader Value
Net Punting (123 ranked) 69 3 37.10 Navy 56.00 Troy 40.94
Punt Returns (123 ranked) 72 4 6.75 Kansas St. 33.75 Texas St. 14.50
Punt Return Defense (123 ranked) 24 1 3.00 Air Force -5.00 South Ala. 3.00
Kickoff Returns (123 ranked) 17 1 27.40 Miami (FL) 41.67 South Ala. 27.40
Kickoff Return Defense (123 ranked) 15 3 17.29 La.-Monroe 10.20 La.-Monroe 10.20
Turnover Margin (123 ranked) 68 4 0.0 Miami (FL) 2.7 Texas St. 2.0
Fewest Penalties Per Game (122 ranked) 89 6 7.00 Boston College 1.67 La.-Monroe 3.75
Fewest Penatly Yards Per Game (123 ranked) 86 6 57.67 Boston College 15.00 La.-Monroe 32.50

Special teams and turnovers observations. Kickoffs could be dangerous for the Vols this weekend, both in receiving them and covering them. They also appear to be pretty good at covering punts, but other than that, South Alabama is only average to below average on special teams, turnovers, and penalties.

Conclusions? Focus on covering kickoffs, and everything else should take care of itself on special teams.

Players to Watch

Category Player National
Rank
Value
OFFENSE
Rushing Yards (297 ranked) Jay Jones
Brandon Bridge
Ross Metheny
124
279
283
205 
101 
99
Rushing Yards Per Game (300 ranked) Jay Jones
Brandon Bridge
Ross Metheny
84
244
248
68.3 
33.7 
33.0
Passing Efficiency (114 ranked) Ross Metheny 21 163.2
Passing TDs (66 ranked) Ross Metheny 66 4
Passing Yards (135 ranked) Ross Metheny 79 595
Passing Yards Per Game (135 ranked) Ross Metheny 68 198.3
Passing Yards per Completion (114 ranked) Ross Metheny 20 14.17
Total Offense (299 ranked) Ross Metheny
Brandon Bridge
Jay Jones
57
199
211
231.3 
73.7 
68.3
Receiving Yards (394 ranked) Wes Saxton
Shavarez Smith
Jereme Jones
Danny Woodson
143
149
218
255
185 
181 
144 
129
Receiving Yards Per Game (393 ranked) Wes Saxton
Shavarez Smith
Jereme Jones
Danny Woodson
104
108
167
197
61.7 
60.3 
48.0 
43.0
Receptions Per Game (388 ranked) Jereme Jones
Wes Saxton
Shavarez Smith
Danny Woodson
119
138
197
280
4.3 
4.0 
3.3 
2.7
Scoring (244 ranked) Aleem Sunanon
Ross Metheny
63
129
8.3 
6.7

Offensive Observations. The numbers suggest that senior quarterback Ross Methany is an efficient passer but not necessarily explosive through the air, although he does rank well in Passing Yards per Completion. I assume that means that he just doesn't pass very often. So far this season, he's passed 62 times for 595 yards and rushed 22 times for 99 yards. The primary running threat is junior Jay Jones, who's getting about 10 carries and 68 yards per game, but we'll also have to watch out for sophomore Brandon Bridge and Methany.

Through the air, it looks like a balanced effort with Wes Saxton, Shavarez Smith, and Jerome Jones all getting somewhat similar receptions and yards.

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
DEFENSE
Interceptions (188 ranked) Roman Buchanan
Alex Page
57
57
0.3 
0.3
Pass Sacks (80 ranked) Romelle Jones
Alex Page
27
49
0.8 
0.7
Solo Tackles (64 ranked)
Tackles For Loss (67 ranked) Alex Page 22 1.5
Total Tackles (390 ranked) Qudarius Ford
Enrique Williams
Charles Watson
62
62
134
8.7 
8.7 
7.3

Defense. If there's a problem up front, it will probably come from senior defensive linemen Alex Page or Romelle Jones.

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
SPECIAL TEAMS
Punt Return TDs (4 ranked) Terrance Timmons 4 1
Punt Returns (85 ranked) T.J. Glover 60 6.0
Punting (82 ranked)
Kickoff Returns (123 ranked) T.J. Glover 17 29.8
Field Goals Per Game (114 ranked) Aleem Sunanon 18 1.7
All Purpose (250 ranked)

Special teams. Not sure why Terrance Timmons ranks 4th nationally in punt returns yet the team ranks only 72nd. Injury? T.J. Glover is a thread on kickoff returns, which is backed up by the team national rankings.

Head to Head Comparisons

Tennessee Logo South Alabama Logo
Comps
Result Against Comps
Prediction
UT rush v. South Alabama rush defense 199.8
(#46)
108
(#23)
FL/OR
(55.3/129.7)
(#1/#43)
66/178 140
UT pass v. South Alabama passing yards allowed 141.5
(#114)
264
(#92)
OR
(189.3)
(#36)
138 200
South Alabama rush v. UT rush defense

170.3
(#75)

166.3
(#72)
FL
(199.7)
(#47)
215 170
South Alabama pass v. UT passing yards allowed 248
(#80)
238.3
(#59)
WKU/FL
(246.5/203.7)
(#52/#87)
222/167 200
UT scoring offense v. South Alabama scoring defense 32
(#59)
28.3
(#79)
FL/WKU
(14.7/31.5)
(#19/#91)
17/52 42
South Alabama scoring offense v. UT scoring defense 27.5
(#73)
31
(#61)
WKU/FL
(34.3/23.7)
(#51/#87)
20/31 28
Strength of Schedule 38 57
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 almost 200 yards on the ground. South Alabama gives up about 108 per game, good for a national ranking of 23rd. This is between the closest comps of Florida and Oregon, who give up 55 and 129 per game respectively. Against Florida, we ran for 66 yards, and against Oregon we rank for 178, so splitting the difference and accounting for relative strength of schedules, I'm putting my guess at 140 yards on the ground for the Vols. That may be low.

So I have the Vols getting a total of 340 yards and South Alabama getting 370, which doesn't sound good at all, but the teams' respective abilities to turn yards into points is at a greater disparity and an advantage for the Vols, so I'm going with a final score of 42-28, Tennessee.

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