The statistical rankings this week bear out what we all know: Halfway through the season with the sixth-most difficult schedule in college football, the Vols are still looking for that final piece to the puzzle, but the rest of the picture is coming together nicely.
What Tennessee is doing well
You expect a fair amount of general improvement in these rankings after playing an FCS opponent, and we got it. What we may not have expected is to rank in the Top 30 in a total of 18 different stat categories halfway through the season. And all of that against the sixth-most difficult schedule in the nation to boot. So the Vols still have a long way to climb, but Top 30 in 40% of the things officially tracked by the NCAA is progress. Yes, the next two weeks will likely be a one-step-back phase, but hey, let's celebrate the two-steps-forward when they're taken.
This week, only one category -- Blocked Kicks -- fell out of the Top 30, and that was replaced with six new arrivals. Welcome to the party, Total Defense, Scoring Defense, Turnovers Gained, Turnover Margin, Punt Return Defense, and 4th Down Conversion Pct Defense. The eyeball test has been gradually revealing to us that the Tennessee defense is really pretty good and arguably ahead of schedule, and the stat rankings side with the eyeballs.
The team so far this season is simply not giving away yards or plays due to penalties, and the defense is both strong and balanced. They're stopping offenses before they get started, they're not letting them get very far when they do get started, and they're taking the ball away when they have a chance to grab it. They're good in both yards and points, and they're good on every down that's measured (1st, 3rd, and 4th). So props to this defense. They're getting it done.
|Categories in which Tennessee is in the Top 30|
|Blocked Kicks Allowed||1||1||1|
|Blocked Punts Allowed||1||1|
|Fewest Penalty Yards||5||5||2|
|Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game||51||67||21||43||11||3||4||6||2|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense||57||50||91||16||13||3||1||3||5|
|Team Tackles for Loss||67||48||90||47||21||36||20||3||6|
|Passing Yards Allowed||12||111||27||31||30||45||28||14||8|
|Fewest Penalties Per Game||56||92||26||56||15||6||9||20||10|
|Team Passing Efficiency Defense||58||21||25||35||32||14||13|
|First Downs Defense||18||86||45||14||21||41||24||25||24|
|Punt Return Defense||85||67||92||85||60||27||40||34||24|
|4th Down Conversion Pct Defense||48||86||117||1||48||31||48||42||30|
The Dearly Departed: Blocked Kicks.
Where Tennessee needs major improvement
Here again, the eyeball speaks the truth. If there's a silver lining in our Really Needs Improvement table, it's that there aren't as many things here as there used to be. If you get out your magnifying glass and look even harder for another silver lining, you'll conclude that, except for one stat category -- Red Zone Defense, which let's be honest seems like one of those categories that's trying to tell you something but doesn't quite get it out -- everything here comes down to the offensive line. It's like taking a math test but not knowing addition. Even if you know every advanced concept cold, the inability to add is going to sink you on every single question. If 2+2=10, then dividing (2+2) by 5 is going to give you 2 even if you know 4/5 is .8. Get one thing wrong, but get it wrong on every single question.
Right. So the inexperience along the entire offensive line is keeping the Vols' offense from gaining yards at a rate they need to to stay competitive. One guy in five failing on his block can blow up the whole play, and getting all five of the guys to do it right at the same time on every single play just isn't happening as often as it needs to. When the other team is behind your line of scrimmage, your running back can't run and your quarterback can't throw, and if he does, he can't throw it very far because there's just not enough time. The o-line is by far the team's biggest challenge, and these guys can be heroes if they can figure it out and get it going. I'm rooting for them to do exactly that.
|Categories in which Tennessee is 90th or below|
|Category||2011||2012||2013||Utah St.||Ark. St.||OK||GA||FL||UTC|
|Passing Yards per Completion||115||87||93||103||110||117||119|
|Tackles for Loss Allowed||38||9||37||48||41||98||109||117||119|
|Red Zone Defense||47||115||11||1||88||101||114||120||120|
Recent Departures: Punt Returns, First Downs Offense.
THE BIG FAT MIDDLE
And here's the rest, for tracking purposes.
|Categories in which Tennessee is in the Middle of the Rankings|
|Category||2011||2012||2013||Utah St.||Ark. St.||OK||GA||FL||UTC|
|Red Zone Offense||58||29||100||1||44||55||39||49||33|
|Time of Possession||37||116||91||44||22||27||38||45||52|
|Passes Had Intercepted||63||83||107||1||34||76||43||65||53|
|4th Down Conversion Pct||91||80||76||62||89||106||116||54||54|
|Kickoff Return Defense||7||47||118||62||76||73||54||54||59|
|Team Passing Efficiency||69||31||111||42||61||98||83||86||76|
|3rd Down Conversion Pct||56||81||92||57||8||63||62||81||78|
|First Downs Offense||98||20||101||47||48||53||84||98||88|
Players in the Top 30
No real surprise here that A.J. Johnson and Cam Sutton are the stars on this team. It may surprise some that Justin Worley is also in that conversation despite the struggles of his supporting cast. And three cheers for Aaron Medley, who's quietly developing into the next kicker we can count on for four years.
|Player||Stat||2011||2012||2013||Utah St.||Ark. St.||OK||GA||FL||UTC|
|A.J. Johnson||Solo Tackles||14||6||6|
|A.J. Johnson||Total Tackles||4||11||8||10|
|Justin Worley||Completions Per Game||22||29||22||16||18|
|A.J. Johnson||Forced Fumbles||3||22|
|Justin Worley||Points Responsible For||16||23|
|Aaron Medley||Field Goals Per Game||26||16||25|
|Justin Worley||Points Responsible For Per Game||18||25|
|Cameron Sutton||Passes Defended||21|
|Jalen Reeves-Maybin||Tackles For Loss||21||26|
|Aaron Medley||Field Goal Percentage||27|
|Cameron Sutton||Fumbles Recovered||11||14|
|Todd Kelly, Jr.||Fumbles Recovered||4||14|
|Jalen Reeves-Maybin||Fumbles Recovered||14|
|Todd Kelly, Jr.||Fumbles Recovered||11|
|Justin Worley||Passing TDs||15|
|Marquez North||Receiving TDs||17|
|A.J. Johnson||Passed Defended||17||20|
|Justin Worley||Completion Percentage||16|
|Dontavis Sapp||Fumbles Recovered||9|
|Devaun Swafford||Punt Return TDs||14|
|Cordarrelle Patterson||Kickoff Returns||14|
|Cordarrelle Patterson||All-Purpose Runners||16|
|Tyler Bray||Total Offense||19|
|Justin Hunter||Receiving Yards Per Game||22|
|Devrin Young||Punt Returns||28|
|Tyler Bray||Passing Efficiency||29|