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Statistical rankings: Vols need to fix first downs

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Tennessee's to-do list this week should start with fixing first downs.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Will has been over some of this already this week, but here is the full Tennessee statistical rankings categorized into three tiers of The Good, The Bad, and the Really, Really Bad.

What Tennessee is doing well

First off, ignore the Blocked Kicks and Punts categories. The current theory is that they're designed to give everyone a trophy.

Second, would you have thought that the Top 30 table would have grown after the Florida game? Me, neither, but it did, thanks primarily to the continually improving defense.

Tennessee may lead the nation in worst-timed penalties, but if you remove the soul-rending aspect of them, the team still ranks well in what I've been calling the discipline categories. The number of penalties the team is comitting did take a hit, but penalty yards remains mostly intact. So if we're going to make mistakes, let's make them when they don't matter, okay?

Third, three new defensive categories (First Downs Defense, Team Tackles for Loss, and Passing Yards Allowed) arrived in The Good table last week, and this week two more (Passes Intercepted and Team Passing Efficiency Defense) join them. Most of those were solidly in the Big, Fat Middle last season (and TFLs were in the cellar), so that's some evidence that the coaching staff can fix things. This is where you skip to the next section, because hoo boy, do we have things to fix.

Categories in which Tennessee is in the Top 30
Category 2011 2012 2013

Utah St.

Ark. St. OK GA FL
Blocked Kicks Allowed 1 1
Blocked Punts Allowed 1
3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense 57 50 91 16 13 3 1 3
Team Tackles for Loss 67 48 90 47 21 36 20 3
Fewest Penalty Yards 5 5
Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game 51 67 21 43 11 3 4 6
Passes Intercepted 86 56 40 10 37 33 36 12
Passing Yards Allowed 12 111 27 31 30 45 28 14
Team Passing Efficiency Defense 58 21 25 35 32 14
Fewest Penalties 6 18
Fewest Penalties Per Game 56 92 26 56 15 6 9 20
First Downs Defense 18 86 45 14 21 41 24 25
Blocked Kicks 21 28
New Arrivals: Passes Intercepted, Team Passing Efficiency Defense.
The Dearly Departed: None. Yes, really.

Where Tennessee needs major improvement

Two categories arrive in, and another returns to, The Really, Really Bad table this week. Punt Returns and First Downs Offense nosedived, and Total Offense fell off the wagon and found itself back in the crack house.

Most of the problems in this table can arguably be boiled down to challenges along the offensive line (sacks, TFLs, and lack of a running game) and the still-missing downfield threat in the passing game.

I've heard Butch Jones call First Down the only "Mystery Down," meaning that down and distance somewhat dictates the play calling on every down except the first. So the team is failing the most when it should have the most flexibility. If I were on the coaching staff, the first thing on my to-do list would be FIX FIRST DOWN. It was a real problem last year, too, so there's some real cause for concern here.

Categories in which Tennessee is 90th or below
Category 2011 2012 2013 Utah St. Ark. St. OK GA FL
Punt Returns 61 22 51 84 14 34 54 97
First Downs Offense 98 20 101 47 48 53 84 98
Total Offense 104 18 102 79 81 93 89 103
Rushing Offense 116 61 44 91 88 94 97 109
Passing Yards per Completion 115 87 93 103 110 117
Tackles for Loss Allowed 38 9 37 48 41 98 109 117
Sacks Allowed 40 5 21 65 66 109 107 118
Red Zone Defense 47 115 11 1 88 101 114 120
Recently checked in to Hell's Hotel: Punt Returns, First Downs Offense.
Back in the Doghouse: Total Offense.
Just Escaped:
4th Down Conversion Percentage.

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
Turnovers Gained 91 95 35 11 29 31 43 32
Total Defense 28 107 83 22 29 42 49 33
Punt Return Defense 85 67 92 85 60 27 40 34
Scoring Defense 36 104 78 10 21 38 57 37
4th Down Conversion Pct Defense 48 86 117 1 48 31 48 42
Turnover Margin 59 88 54 6 19 35 39 42
Time of Possession 37 116 91 44 22 27 38 45
Red Zone Offense 58 29 100 1 44 55 39 49
4th Down Conversion Pct 91 80 76 62 89 106 116 54
Kickoff Return Defense 7 47 118 62 76 73 54 54
Team Sacks 100 98 99 73 58 78 67 54
Passing Offense 50 15 109 44 54 68 54 56
Completion Percentage 71 58
Kickoff Returns 41 80 20 84 68 63 48 58
Net Punting 104 52 28 70 76 78 72 59
Turnovers Lost 20 58 87 1 13 52 44 63
Fumbles Recovered 71 113 29 19 22 22 51 65
Passes Had Intercepted 63 83 107 1 34 76 43 65
Fumbles Lost 6 28 24 1 1 23 55 70
Rushing Defense 69 85 100 39 49 48 78 73
3rd Down Conversion Pct 56 81 92 57 8 63 62 81
Team Passing Efficiency 69 31 111 42 61 98 83 86
Scoring Offense 106 22 94 41 48 83 74 89

Players in the Top 30

Player Stat 2011 2012 2013 Utah St. Ark. St. Oklahoma Georgia Florida
A.J. Johnson Solo Tackles 14 6
A.J. Johnson Total Tackles 4 11 8
Cameron Sutton Interceptions 4 13
Justin Worley Completions Per Game 22 29 22 16
Aaron Medley Field Goals Per Game 26 16
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
Justin Worley Points Responsible For 16
Marquez North Receiving TDs 17
Justin Worley Points Responsible For Per Game 18
A.J. Johnson Passed Defended 17 20
Owen Williams Sacks 29
A.J. Johnson Forced Fumbles 3
A.J. Johnson Interceptions 4
Justin Worley Completion Percentage 16
Dontavis Sapp Fumbles Recovered 9
Michael Palardy Punting 11
Devaun Swafford Punt Return TDs 14
Byron Moore Interceptions 13
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
Austin Johnson Interceptions 23