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Tennessee's 4th quarter team digging holes in the 2nd and 3rd

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Somewhere in the growing pile of evidence proving that the Tennessee Volunteers are improving is an exhibit labeled "Fourth Quarters." It looks like this:

 
4th Quarter
 
UT
Opp.
Difference
WKU
28
0
+28
UCLA
5
0
+5
Florida
7
0
+7
Ohio
3
3
0
Auburn
16
10
+6
Georgia
7
0
+7
Total
66
13
+53
  • So yeah, the Volunteers are finishing well. They've not lost a fourth quarter all year, even to the teams that beat them in the game, and the worst they've done in the fourth quarter is tie with Ohio.
  • In most games, Tennessee has scored at least the equivalent of one more touchdown than its opponents in the fourth quarter.
  • Give credit to the offense, yes, but the defense has been phenomenal late in the game, notching four shutouts in the fourth quarters of six games, including Florida.
  • In all three of their losses, Tennessee at least made up ground in the last quarter.

Of course, much like an offense improves its odds of success by staying on schedule in downs, even a team that finishes well will struggle if it gets too far behind earlier in the game, which has obviously been the case in our three losses:

 
1st through 3rd Quarters
4th Quarter
 
UT
Opp.
Difference
UT
Opp.
Difference
WKU
35
7
+28
28
0
+28
UCLA
10
19
-9
5
0
+5
Florida
6
23
-17
7
0
+7
Ohio
31
20
+11
3
3
0
Auburn
6
16
-10
16
10
+6
Georgia
38
19
+19
7
0
+7
Total
126
104
22
66
13
+53

 

Against UCLA, Tennessee had to make up 9 points going into the fourth quarter and only managed 5 while the defense held. Against Florida, the defense again held, but the Vols were down by 17, and the offense managed only 7 points of their own. Against Auburn, we were down by 10 going into the last period, and outscoring the Tigers 16-10 from that point on came up short in a four-point loss.

So the team is finishing better than it is starting. Trying to determine why from the outside is problematic, but we can attempt to identify any particular quarter as a weakness:

 
1st Quarter
2nd Quarter
3rd Quarter
 
UT
Opp.
Diff.
UT
Opp.
Diff.
UT
Opp.
Diff.
UCLA
10
3
+7
0
7
-7
0
9
-9
Florida
3
3
0
3
10
-7
0
10
-10
Auburn
0
6
-6
6
7
-1
0
3
-3
Total
13
12
+1
9
24
-15
0
22
-22
  • In its three losses, Tennessee's first quarters have been a mixed bag. They outscored UCLA, tied Florida, and got behind against Auburn.
  • It's the middle two quarters that are problems for the Vols. They've been outscored by 15 points and 22 points respectively in the second quarters of their losses. The funky one is Auburn, later in the season, in which they only fell behind by an extra four points in the middle half. But against UCLA and Florida, the Vols fell asleep in the middle of the game and fell behind by 16 and 17 points respectively.

Whatever the reason, Tennessee, when it falls behind, generally does so in the second and third quarters. If it was just the third, you'd say that the team is getting beat by halftime adjustments and winning with on-field adjustments. If it was just the second, you could theorize that they're getting beat with on-field adjustments and winning both with halftime adjustments in the third and conditioning in the fourth. But neither of those scenarios applies.

Generally, Tennessee plays well with the lead and well from behind in the fourth quarter. If they can figure out how to stop spending the middle quarters digging holes, they'll be in good shape.