With two games in the books, we can take a look at UT and begin to identify some tendencies in their offensive and defensive play. It's really too early to call any of these tendencies as actual trends, but we can start with the big pictures and begin to work our way down a little bit into the details. After the jump, I've included a few drive charts for the first two games as a springboard for some early comparisons and speculations. The charts are nothing sophisticated; they're all representations of the rives in the sequence in which the drives occurred and will give a general feel of how the game progressed. If you want to see a representation of these with the drive results in a sweet animated form, be sure to check out Joel's animated drive charts (UAB here) if you haven't already.
I'll focus mostly on the offense in these charts, but there is plenty to be said about the defense in them as well (teaser: the defense is good). So, onto the charts and the Alabama grin...
(Charts are grouped by game for convenience. A short write-up on each game follows each group.)
First note: the two gaps you see in the Number of Plays plot - first for UCLA, then for UT - represent the punt-block-TD and the INT-TD for UCLA and UT respectively. I included them as drives so I knew where they were located in the game. They show up in Time of Possession as gaps as well, so don't freak out about that.
Looking through the UCLA game, the first things that jump out like plaid on paisley are the Alabama grins in the Number of First Downs and Yards plots. Seriously, you could fit half a Spam sandwich through masticular gaps that large without getting the bread wet. One the one hand, it's kinda nice to see that UCLA made first downs on only 7 of 14 drives (punt-block-TD drive and 1st-half kneeldown drive excluded). Unfortunately, UT managed zero 1st-downs on 6 out of 14 drives (INT-TD drive excluded). Until the end of the 4th quarter, UT was on a very consistent pace to have zero first downs for 2 out of every 3 drives.
Time of possession tells a similar story with many drives lasting less than two game minutes. That kind of lack of offensive production will exhaust a defense, who needs an occasional long break to sit, relax and reset the mind. This is my new biggest concern with the offense. If they can at least get one or two first downs to move the chains and to give the defense some time off, we'll be competitive in every game. If they string together consecutive 3-and-outs, it places an unfair burden on the defense.
On offense, things appeared a little better against UAB. In the Yards plot, you can see that UT had some nice distance on some drives. A few of those are obviously TD drives, but even some of the shorter drives were better than the UCLA game. The Number of First Downs chart shows that they were better at keeping our defense on the sideline to rest up, which was a great relief for a hot day. However, you see that same nagging gap occur in the second quarter. For the first half, if you look at both the First Downs chart and the Yards chart, you see that UT and UAB were gaining comparable yardage, but that UAB was getting more first downs in the process. UT was getting yards in bigger chunks. That explains the Number of Plays in the first half, which I believe is more important than Time of Possession for determining the fatigue factor.
The worrisome thing here is the Yards plot, where the Vols seem to be MIA in the second quarter. That's two games in a row without offense in the second quarter; that's not enough to declare a pandemic, but it's enough to raise an eyebrow. UT cannot afford to take a full quarter off against Florida, especially the one where you go into the locker room immediately afterward.
But, the offense was much more consistent in the UAB game than the UCLA game. It's preaching to the choir, I know, but I always like to visualize these things. I really like the distinct edge the Vols had in # of plays and time of possession in the second half. Granted, UAB was probably getting winded in the heat, but that would have been a factor for UT as well. Also, UAB is probably used to worse heat conditions than UT, given their location.
Note also that there were fewer total drives in the UAB game than the UCLA game. That's the other great benefit of getting firsts and burning the clock; it limits the number of opportunities for an opponent to score. (Again, we know all this, but I mention it to illustrate how the plots visualize these things.)
Well, that's about it for these pretty pictures. They're designed for generalizations and don't show fine details, but they do give us some things to look for in the game on Saturday. Let's pay attention to the drives in the second quarter: are we giving our defense a breather, or are they burning up all their energy before halftime? Are they getting at least one first down to balance out the field position, or is Florida keeping UT hemmed in? Is our offense getting enough plays in the first half to tire out the Gator defense, or are they fresh as a daisy at halftime? In the first half, there are two things we'll need to watch for a chance to win. First, we obviously can't fall behind by a kajillion points. Trailing at halftime is disappointing, but not a death knell. Trailing at halftime by 3 or 4 scores is a serious problem. Second, we should hope for at least one first down on every drive. Consecutive offensive series without first downs will burn out our defense (who will likely be exerting maximum effort trying to contain the Florida offense) and will lose the field position battle. UT has fallen victim to repetitive 3-n-outs in both games so far, particularly in the second quarter. Let's see if that gets fixed.