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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Northern Illinois: Offense to Date

With 5 games in the books, we can now take a look at some of the trends emerging in the UT offense.  (And by "trends", I don't mean a complete lack of consistency from the QB play.)  As before, I'll toss around a few pretty graphs and charts to give a gauge of the performance of the offense.

When evaluating Stephens's  play, keep in mind that I did not visually see the game.  I don't know exactly how well/poorly he threw the ball, how well the running backs ran, or how stiff the UNI defense was.  So the numbers merely give me something to focus on as a starting point for evaluation.  If you saw the game and anything in the chars/graphs jumps out at you, please leave some thoughts below.  I'm basically flying the Alps on instrumentation alone; the gauges tell me I'd like to see the Alps, but I can't tell you what those Alps actually look like from this angle.

The stats are compiled from the database at  If you compare my numbers to those found at places like, you'll undoubtedly find discrepancies.  That's largely because ESPN et. al tend to be inconsistent because they update stats live, while NCAA will take more time to get them right.  Besides, the NCAA stats are the official stats.  There is one discrepancy that bugs me, though, and I'd like your help resolving it if you could.  You'll see it very early on.

So, onward and upward:


Let's look at the passing and running stats in a forest-view level:

  • Passing:  Stephens measured out favorably in the stats compared to Crompton.  His completion percentage may have been the highest of the season.  (Note:  I say "may" because of a discrepancy in the number of completions.  Box scores - including NCAA's - list 10 completions.  Play-by-plays - including NCAA's - list 11 completions for Stephens.  Because the PbPs have actual descriptions, I used them.  If you have a resolution to this, leave a comment and I'll update when I get a chance.)  Stephens also had the highest QB rating of any game (NCAA system, not NFL system.  The general impression of the game was that Stephens had better control over his passes than Crompton had in previous games, and the stats seem to bear that out.
  • Rushing:  Ugh.  If you want to know why UT scored so few points, look no further than that massive anemic 2.2 yards-per-rush.  With 32 carries, you'd expect to break 100 yards on the day.  I was unable to see the game (I'm too cheap for PPV), so I don't know the defensive alignments, but I would guess that UNI was routinely stacking up against the run and leaving the passing game more open.  That would jive with the stats.  That would also say that UT needs a passing game to survive.
  • Question for those who saw the game:  How did Foster look?  He had an unusually high proportion of the carries this week.  Was that justified, or did we just see an attempt to fill his stats against a weaker opponent so he could get that record we hear so much about?  (Note to coaches:  we don't care about the record.  If he gets the record and we have a losing season, nobody will see the record as a positive.  Did we not learn that good is the enemy of the great?)

Ok, let's focus in a little more on the passing numbers:


A few notes on the passing statistics in the games so far:

  • Nick Stephens's completion percentage is comparable to Crompton's vs. UAB and Florida.  Something in the 60% range is good at the college level.
  • Nick's Yards-per-Attempt was the highest of all games so far.  Of course, Stephens had a couple of long strikes that raised this up considerably.  But he had long strikes.
  • Auburn put more pressure on the QB than any other team so far.  In only 23 pass attempts by UT, Auburn manages a sack or a hurry (as recorded by NCAA stats) in 8 plays - roughly 1 in every 3 plays.  Might that have something to do with the low completion percentage?
  • Stephens was sacked more than Crompton in any single game, but did not face consistent pressure otherwise.  We'll have to wait to see how Nick handles pressure.  (Hopefully we never have to find out!)
  • Stephens was locked in on Wide Receivers.  The distribution in the chart only scores completions, not attempts, but it's pretty obvious that Stephens loved him some wide receivers.  The tight ends just have to be more involved in the passing game.  (How about not broadcasting that during press conferences this time?)  Also, what happened to the RB screens and throws into the flat?
  • If this trend continues, we won't even need a QB soon.  The number of pass attempts have been dropping off to levels not seen in ages.  More on this later.

Now, let's look at the completion percentages as functions of gametime.  The next few graphs will show the completion percentages after every passing play.  Sacks, Hurries, and INTs will also be shown.  Keep in mind that there will be a lot of variation early until the stats stabilize.


  • One of these things is not like the other.  One of these things just doesn't belong.  The most obvious "what the hey?" moment in these charts is the Auburn game.  Crompton started with a string of incompletions, never saw a 50% completion percentage, then ended with that precipitous string of incompletions to bookend the whole thing.  He appeared to be destined for a completion percentage of about 35-38% if he had more opportunities, which is wholly unacceptable at the college level.
  • Crompton did not appear to be fazed by pressure.  There is no pattern to Crompton's passing success following sacks/hurries/ints; he appears to enjoy the same success/failure after such plays (and during, even) as on the plays with no pressure.  Say what you will about the kid, he's a resilient player.
  • Crompton has a tendency to go on incompletion streaks.  It's most noticeable in the UCLA and Auburn games (incidentally, both are road games).  This is what we saw that always aggravated us so much.  Consecutive incompletions tend to kill drives more so than isolated completions.  And once we saw an incompletion, we were primed to zoom our attention in on more.
  • Stephens had the best completion streak to date.  Nick's 5 consecutive completions was the best string so far.  Now, completions take two players - the QB and the receiver - but let's hope that keeps up.
  • You can't see it in the charts, but Gerald Jones was the intended target for more incompletions than any other player.  And it wasn't even close.  Part of that is that Jones was the intended target for all throws more than any other player, but if we start watching receivers as closely as we watch QBs, we may find Jones to be the most inconsistent of the receivers.  Again, I don't know; the numbers don't tell us who is responsible for the incompletions, they just give us an indication of where to start looking.

Now, for some odds and ends.


Clawson has been leaning more and more on the run game every week.  At the current pace, we'll end up with a pure running game by the end of the season, as seen by the dashed trendline.  The biggest blip is the apparent increase in the pass/run ratio during the Florida game.  However, if were were to correct for the kill-the-clock strategy at the end of the UAB game, we might find the passing trend to continue more consistently.  We're going to have to mix in more passes someday if we want to see the offense move.


If we take another angle at the pass/run plays, we'll note that UT has been very consistently rushing the ball just over 30 times a game.  The one blip in the blue line is the result of the kill-the-clock strategy inflating the number of rushes.  However, that yellow line is astoundingly consistent; UT is losing 5.6 pass plays per game (r^2 of about 0.96 for the trendline geeks out there).  If that trend holds, UT is projected to throw 1 pass (!!!) against Alabama. (Maybe we are headed toward this.)

Teams are figuring out how to kill the clock.  I believe that teams were calling plays very quickly during the first few games of the season to avoid delay of game penalties.  However, now that teams are getting a sense of the pace, they're using up the clock and limiting the number of plays.

Getting an early lead is more important than ever before.  The team with the lead gets to dictate the pace of the game.  With the new clock rules, you can run out of bounds and still bleed the clock, which opens up the passing game for clock-killing.  The team with the lead can use the full playbook to kill the clock.  And they are.  Meanwhile, the trailing team gets a severely limited playbook, which means that having a quick lead can drastically tilt the game flow in favor of the leading team.  I don't think this was an intended consequence of the clock rules, but it's there.  UT needs to figure out a quick-strike offense.

Yellow and blue make green.  Just thought I'd throw that out there for you.