During Lane Kiffin's weekly press conference today, he mentioned that Tennessee has the highest fourth quarter scoring differential of any team in the SEC. Looking back inside the numbers, it's not just points - Tennessee has outgained the opposition, and decidedly so, in four of the first five games.
Teams that have great success in the fourth quarter are typically teams that win, which is one thing the Vols haven't been this season. Part of that falls to the Vols' performance in the first three quarters: two different 23-6 holes against Florida and Auburn, and a 19-10 deficit against UCLA. Having to come back down multiple possessions puts a strain on an offense, and that strain is worsened by Tennessee's inability to hit the big play.
This has led to an extraordinarily high number of 8+ play drives, especially late in the game. Drives like these are usually difficult to sustain consistently, and yet the Vols have done it a number of times in only five games.
The problem, however, has been finishing these drives.
Here are the overall fourth quarter numbers in the Vols' first five games:
- Western Kentucky: Vols 28-0, 188 total yards, -6 yards allowed
- UCLA: Vols 5-0, 81 total yards, -2 yards allowed
- Florida: Vols 7-0, 125 total yards, 68 yards allowed
- Ohio: 3-3, 64 total yards, 117 yards allowed
- Auburn: Vols 16-10, 213 total yards, 94 yards allowed
- Season Totals: Vols 59-13, 671 total yards, 271 yards allowed
Tennessee has outscored the opposition by 46 points and outgained them by 400 yards in the 4th quarter. Again, these seem like numbers that belong to a team that's finishing well and getting the job done.
But again, these yards are coming, for the most part, as the result of mulitiple-play drives. And on several occasions, those drives have failed to pay off. The following are all fourth quarter drives this year:
- UCLA: 17 plays, 69 yards, field goal
- UCLA: 13 plays, 53 yards, stopped at the one yard line
- Florida: 9 plays, 27 yards, interception
- Ohio: 8 plays, 35 yards, field goal
- Auburn: 18 plays, 72 yards, field goal
Each one of these fourth quarter drives came at critical junctures in the game, and each one failed to produce a touchdown. In fact, all of Tennessee's fourth quarter drives that have produced touchdowns have come in 7 plays or less.
Failing to take advantage in the red zone and at the end of drives was one of the real downfalls of the Clawfense last year, though I think we'd all agree that Tennessee's offense under Kiffin has been an improvement in almost every other way. Kiffin noted in his press conference that the 18 play drive against Auburn was the longest by any team in the SEC this season, which is noteworthy. But again, the Vols are failing to finish these drives, coming all the way downfield in unexpected fashion considering our passing game struggles and the fact that we've been playing from behind, only to stumble at the finish line.
So first...the Vols could use more big plays.
The downfield passing game hasn't been there, but big plays by Montario Hardesty have been at times. We can't expect Jonathan Crompton to all of a sudden start firing 40 yard TD passes, but guys like Gerald Jones could help the offense tremendously by increasing their YAC.
And second...the Vols have to finish drives.
Field goals weren't good enough to beat UCLA or Florida, and in Gainesville the Vols had two first half drives of 15 and 6 plays that didn't finish in the end zone, so it hasn't just been a fourth quarter issue. As it continues to become clear that Tennessee isn't going to score 40 points per game and that big plays may not be out there, field goals may not be good enough against Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina or the rest either. When scoring opportunities present themselves or the offense does manage to string together another long drive, the Vols m-u-s-t learn to finish.
Tennessee has put the pieces together in the fourth quarter, but failed to finish the puzzle. As we've said, the Vols are close. Now it's time to stop being close, start putting the ball in the end zone, finish drives and win the game.