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First Priorities: The Tennessee Volunteers Offense vs. the Georgia Bulldogs Defense

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Quick:  What is the significance of 40% in offense in football?

While you're thinking about that one (if you don't already have the answer), here are some other percentages directly relating to 40% and the Tennessee Volunteers offense versus the Georgia Bulldogs defense:

  • 55.9%
  • 32.3%
  • 58.8% / 35.3%
  • 5.9%

Ok, the answer:  40% refers to the offensive "schedule" on first down.  That is, what percentage of yards to the next first down does the offense actually gain on first?  Most seem to agree that, on 1st and 10, a team remains 'on schedule' for the next first down if they gain four yards.  If they are penalized and start at 1st and 15, then 6 yards is usually the hope.  But for general principle, 40% on first is the goal (and 60% of whatever is remaining on second).

The remaining percentages relate directly to Tennessee on first downs throughout the game and various ways of measuring success.  More on that and all of the first down plays after the jump.

The chart (below) shows all of the first downs for Tennessee in the game (34 in all).  They're organized in order in a way that shows how many first downs were in each drive, what type of play transpired, and the result.  The "Yards" are highlighted according to "schedule" - if the Vols managed to gain 40% of the yards for the next first down (or touchdown), the number is highlighted in green.  If they failed to gain yards at all, it's highlighted in red.  Also, the one time that an incompletion was thrown on first is highlighted in yellow.  (Yes, one incompletion on first out of twelve pass attempts.)

After the chart, I'll go back over those percentages I listed earlier, as well as a few more enjoyable tidbits.

Drive 1st down # Type Yards Notes
1 1 pass 18
1 2 pass 23
1 3 rush 7
2 1 rush 1
2 2 rush 0
3 1 pass 13
3 2 penalty -5
3 3 rush 10
3 4 rush 9
3 5 rush 3
3 6 pass 0 1st and Goal, 6 yards to go
4 1 rush 0
4 2 pass 33 TD
5 1 pass 15
5 2 rush 7
5 3 pass 14
5 4 pass 5 1st and Goal, TD
6 1 rush 2
7 1 rush 15
7 2 rush 5
8 1 rush 0
9 1 rush 5
9 2 pass 18
9 3 rush 3
10 1 rush 2
10 2 pass 51 TD
11 1 rush 3
11 2 penalty -5
11 3 rush 0
12 1 penalty 12
12 2 pass 1 1st and Goal, 2 yards to go
12 3 rush 1 TD
13 1 rush 3
14 1 rush 5


As you can see, the Volunteers did themselves a huge favor by succeeding on first down.  By staying on schedule, which normally leaves you in second and 6 or fewer situations, the playbook remained wide open and the Vols were nearly unstoppable for most of the game.  Georgia was not able to hedge their bets on pass defense, and successful first downs almost always resulted achieving another first down or a score.  In the drives that didn't stay on schedule on first downs, the Vols often punted.

Numbers.  Happy, Tasty Numbers

  • 55.9% The success rate on first down.
  • 32.3% The rate at which a first down play resulted in another first down.
  • 58.8% / 35.3%  The rush / pass ratio.  (The remainder is due to two penalties.)
  • 5.9%  The penalty rate on first down.
  • 4 / 11.76%  The number of 3-yard gains on 1st and 10.  If you consider those successes as well, then the success rate becomes 67.7%.
  • 8.05, 5, 4.93  The average yards, median yards, and trimmed average yards gained on first down.  (Trimmed average means I removed the top 20% and bottom 20% and averaged the rest.)
  • 14.7, 12.5, 11.9  The average yards, median yards, and trimmed average yards gained on a successful first down.  Note that successful firsts were most likely to result directly in another first down.
  • 274  The total yards gained on first down.  That's 58% of their total 472 yards on the day.

Again, if you're looking for key elements to success for the Vols offense, one of the biggest was that they set themselves up nicely after first down.  Either they had another first, a touchdown, or a manageable second down in a decided majority of their plays, which kept the Bulldogs defense on their heels and avoided must-pass situations.

If that's what Lane Kiffin has in mind for the offense (even if it was a 'bad' offense against a 'bad' defense), I'm all aboard.