Tennessee Volunteers Vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs: Statistic-Based Game Preview

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Tennessee takes on an undefeated, top 25 Mississippi State team this weekend on the road. What do the numbers say about their chances?

Caveats. This is a long post, so we put the conclusions and predictions at both the beginning and the end. You're not seeing double.

Sketchy Conclusions

  • According to the NCAA, Tennessee's current strength of schedule is 23rd, and Mississippi State's is 106th, which seems about right when you note that the Bulldogs' best victories to date are over 1-4 Auburn and 1-5 Kentucky. Don't read too much into that, though, because they're undefeated against their schedule, and Tennessee has lost two games. The Tennessee-Georgia game had about the same disparity in strength of schedules going in. Just saying.
  • The Bulldogs' offense is basically just average, but they do well where it matters most: scoring points. Ladarius Perkins is a fine back who is putting up nearly 100 yards per game and ranks 26th in the nation. They don't pass much.
  • Their defense, however, is quite good, both against the pass and at limiting points. Two of the Bulldogs' DBs are in the top ten nationally in interceptions, so what Tyler Bray thinks is space might actually be a black hole.
  • Based on all of that, it appears that Tennessee's best opportunity to win may be to -- prepare to have your mind blown -- run the ball.

Predictions

  • Tennessee 28, Mississippi State 24

Schedule and Animated Drive Charts

Mississippi State Logo
Jackson St. Tigers 9/1/12 win 56 - 9 coverage
Auburn Tigers 9/8/12 win 28 - 10 coverage
@ Troy Trojans 9/15/12 win 30 - 24 coverage
South Alabama Jaguars 9/22/12 win 30 - 10 coverage
@ Kentucky Wildcats 10/6/12 win 27 - 14 coverage
Tennessee Logo
@ N.C. State Wolfpack 8/31/12 win 35 - 21 coverage
Georgia State Panthers 9/8/12 win 51 - 13 coverage
Florida Gators 9/15/12 loss 20 - 37 coverage
Akron Zips 9/22/12 win 47 - 26 coverage
@ Georgia Bulldogs 9/29/12 loss 44 - 51 coverage

According to the NCAA's "Toughest Schedule" PDF, Tennessee's schedule is currently ranked 23rd and Mississippi State's is ranked 106th. Take that for what it's worth. The the last time we looked at the teams' respective schedules and strength of schedules, Tennessee's was 25th and Georgia's was 115th.

Here are the drive charts from the Bulldogs' two SEC games so far:

FULL SCREEN VERSION


FULL SCREEN VERSION

Animated Drive Charts brought to you by Gameday Depot.

Five turnovers did in Auburn, and it looks like the Bulldogs' defense held Kentucky's offense in check. Or maybe it was Kentucky's offense that did that. Let's hope the latter, because the Wildcats didn't get past midfield but twice and some change.

National Unit Rankings

OFFENSIVE RANKINGS
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
Conf Leader Actual
Rushing Offense 47 179.00 Army 397.20 8 Georgia 226.50
Passing Offense 70 225.60 Baylor 416.50 6 Tennessee 329.20
Total Offense 64 404.60 Oklahoma St. 659.00 7 Texas A&M 516.80
Scoring Offense 35 34.20 Oklahoma St. 55.75 6 Texas A&M 44.60
Passing Efficiency 48 138.88 West Virginia 195.97 7 South Carolina 180.89
Sacks Allowed T-7 .60 Air Force .00 1 Tennessee .60

Offensive observations. The numbers say that this is just an average offensive team, perhaps a bit better at the thing that matters most, which is scoring points. They do protect the quarterback extremely well. Combine that with our inability to get to the QB, and we're extremely unlikely to see any sacks this week. But beyond that, there's nothing particularly frightening here, especially considering their strength of schedule.

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
Conf Leader Actual
Rushing Defense 40 126.00 BYU 59.50 7 Alabama 65.80
Pass Efficiency Defense 12 101.59 Alabama 84.82 4 Alabama 84.82
Total Defense 25 325.60 Alabama 191.60 5 Alabama 191.60
Scoring Defense 11 13.40 Alabama 7.00 5 Alabama 7.00
Pass Defense 31 199.60 Texas Tech 117.40 6 LSU 122.50
Sacks 84 1.60 Tulsa 4.50 13 South Carolina 4.17
Tackles For Loss 64 5.60 Tulsa 9.83 10 Missouri 8.83

Defensive observations. Here's where the Bulldogs are good to very good. They're best where it matters most: Scoring Defense. How do they do it? A fairly healthy balance with a bit more weight on the pass defense side of the scale. So we have strength against strength and weakness against weakness. Sort of like we thought against Florida. Gulp. Mississippi State's offense isn't going to turn into Florida's, is it? I'm saying no.

What don't we need to worry about so much? Sacks and tackles for loss, particularly sacks, which we don't allow opponents to do anyway.

SPECIAL TEAMS AND TURNOVERS RANKINGS
Category National
Rank
Actual National
Leader
Actual Conf
Rank
Conf Leader Actual
Net Punting 40 38.67 Texas A&M 45.50 8 Texas A&M 45.50
Punt Returns 63 8.25 Kansas St. 36.00 9 Missouri 21.87
Kickoff Returns 78 20.00 Rutgers 49.00 13 Alabama 31.50
Turnover Margin 2 2.20 Alabama 2.40 2 Alabama 2.40

Special teams and turnovers observations. Nothing here jumps out at you except the turnover margin, which leads to the age-old question of whether that's effort or luck. It's probably a combination of the two, which means it's partially luck. And luck has a way of running out. We'll see, but we probably ought not to count on it. If I was Sal Sunseri, I'd dial back the aggression on defense and play to keep his guys between the offense and the end zone on this one. Pick your times to be aggressive. Dare I say it? I sort of miss our old friend Prevent.

Players to Watch

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
OFFENSE
Rushing Ladarius Perkins 26 99.80
Passing Efficiency (Min. 15 Att./Game) Tyler Russell 44 141.13
Total Offense Tyler Russell 65 224.80
Ladarius Perkins 99.80
Receptions Per Game Chad Bumphis 4.20
Chris Smith 3.20
Receiving Yards Per Game Chad Bumphis 56 75.00
Chris Smith 39.20
Scoring Chad Bumphis T-92 7.20
Ladarius Perkins T-92 7.20
Devon Bell 7.00

Offensive Observations. The strength of the offense appears to be junior running back Ladarius Perkins, who ranks 26th in the nation in rushing yards. Junior QB Tyler Russell gets it done, and his favorite targets to date are Chad Bumphis and Chris Smith, but those guys are getting only a little over seven catches and 115 yards combined per game.

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
DEFENSE
Interceptions Darius Slay T-4 .80
Johnthan Banks T-9 .60
Matthew Wells .20
Nickoe Whitley .20
Sacks Preston Smith T-60 .60
Denico Autry .40
Tackles Benardrick McKinney 7.20
Cameron Lawrence 6.60
Tackles For Loss Denico Autry .90

Defense. Here's where we really need to be concerned. Both senior DBs Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks are interception machines. Both are in the top ten nationally in interceptions, Slay with four for the year and Banks with three for the year. So Bray better be careful throwing the ball this week.

Category Player National
Rank
Actual
SPECIAL TEAMS
Punting (Min. 3.6 Punts/Game) Baker Swedenburg 68 40.43
Punt Returns (Min. 1.2 Ret./Game) Johnthan Banks 45 9.12
Kickoff Returns (Min. 1.2 Ret./Game)
Field Goals Devon Bell T-45 1.20
All-Purpose Runners Ladarius Perkins 42 130.00
Chad Bumphis 79.60

Special teams. Nothing too concerning here.

Head to Head Comparisons

Tennessee Logo Mississippi State Logo
Comps
Result Against Comps
Prediction
UT rush v. Mississippi State rush defense 177.40
(#51)
126
(#40)
NC State
(114.33)
(#24)
191 200
UT pass v. Mississippi State pass defense 329.20
(#10)
199.60
(#31)
Florida/Georgia
(180.20/212.33)
(#17/#43)
257/281 270
Mississippi State rush v. UT rush defense 186.20
(#86)
179
(#47)
Florida
(214.80)
(#24)
336 200
Mississippi State pass v. UT pass defense 239.60
(#73)
225.60
(#70)
Georgia
(257.50)
(#44)
286 230
UT scoring offense v. Mississippi State scoring defense 39.40
(#20)
13.40
(#11)
Florida
(11.40)
(#6)
20 28
Mississippi State scoring offense v. UT scoring defense 29.60
(#84)
34.20
(#35)
Akron
(33.83)
(#38)
26 24

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 putting up about 329 yards through the air on average, and Mississippi State is allowing only about 200. That's about midway between Florida and Georgia, who are allowing 180 and 212 per game. Against those two teams, Tennessee got 257 and 281, so I'm guessing 270 passing yards for Tennessee this week.

So I have 470 total yards for the Vols and 430 yards for the Bulldogs. The score -- 28-24, Vols -- is much closer than I expected it to be, and it's very disconcerting. I'm tempted to gives ours a premium and to discount theirs based on the teams' respective strength of schedules, but the fact is that we've lost two of our games and they're undefeated. After weighing all of that, I want to go 31-24 Tennessee, but I think I'm going to leave it as is and just hope I'm wrong.

Sketchy Conclusions

  • According to the NCAA, Tennessee's current strength of schedule is 23rd, and Mississippi State's is 106th, which seems about right when you note that the Bulldogs' best victories to date are over 1-4 Auburn and 1-5 Kentucky. Don't read too much into that, though, because they're undefeated against their schedule, and Tennessee has lost two games. The Tennessee-Georgia game had about the same disparity in strength of schedules going in. Just saying.
  • The Bulldogs' offense is basically just average, but they do well where it matters most: scoring points. Ladarius Perkins is a fine back who is putting up nearly 100 yards per game and ranks 26th in the nation. They don't pass much.
  • Their defense, however, is quite good, both against the pass and at limiting points. Two of the Bulldogs' DBs are in the top ten nationally in interceptions, so what Tyler Bray thinks is space might actually be a black hole.
  • Based on all of that, it appears that Tennessee's best opportunity to win may be to -- prepare to have your mind blown -- run the ball.

Predictions

  • Tennessee 28, Mississippi State 24
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