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Monitoring the Vols' improvement: penalties are currently telling the tale

What do the Vols' rankings in all of the major statistical categories after the first two weeks tell us about the team?

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

There are currently only two weeks' worth of stats to review, but the early returns are a little eyebrow-raising nonetheless. You have to be mostly happy with most of the Vols' special teams units. You should also be pleased with the improvement in the run game, something for which we've been waiting for at least four years. On the other hand, you could either be concerned that the defense -- last year's team strength -- is headed in the wrong direction, or you could chalk that up to other factors.

The most surprising thing to me so far this season, though? The sudden increase in penalties.

What Tennessee is currently doing well

The quick answer to the question of what the Vols are doing well so far in 2015 is "special teams and a couple of other things." The most interesting thing that is happening here, though, is that with the exception of kickoffs and TFLs (I'm ignoring the oddities of blocked kicks and punts) most of the green is formerly yellow. The biggest mover here is Rushing Offense, which has been mired in mediocrity for three years and was downright terrible in 2011. We're also protecting the ball much better in the passing game. So far.

But there is a corollary to that. The list of statistical categories that were on this list at the end of last year and aren't anymore is breath-taking. You can dismiss some of that with a two-game sample size, but I think you have little choice but to be concerned about penalties. The penalty stats were primarily Top 25 two years ago and Top 15 last year. So far this season, they're in the 70s. Go ahead and lay some blame on the officials in the Oklahoma game, but that has to change one way or another.

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

2014

BG OK
Blocked Kicks Allowed

1

1 1
Fumbles Lost 6 28 24 37 1 1
Blocked Punts Allowed 1 1 1
Blocked Kicks 70 3 4
Turnovers Lost 20 58 87 61 1 7
Kickoff Returns 41 80 20 14 5 8
Kickoff Return Defense 7 47 118 23 17 9
Punt Returns 61 22 51 37 6 13
Net Punting 104 52 28 36 57 18
Rushing Offense 116 61 44 89 4 20
Team Tackles for Loss 67 48 90 21 27 20
Turnover Margin 59 88 54 53 26 26
Passes Had Intercepted 63 83 107 84 1 28
New this year: Fumbles Lost, Blocked Kicks, Turnovers Lost, Punt Returns, Net Punting, Rushing Offense, Turnover Margin, Passes Had Intercepted.
Departing this year: Deep breath . . . Team Sacks, Red Zone Offense, Passes Intercepted, 3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense, Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game, Fewest Penalty Yards, Fewest Penalties Per Game, Team Passing Efficiency Defense, Fewest Penalties, Punt Return Defense, 4th Down Conversion Pct, 4th Down Conversion Pct Defense, Passing Yards Allowed.

Where Tennessee needs major improvement

Again, the thing that is so concerning about this is that so much of what Tennessee is doing poorly is stuff it had done well last year. Extremely well in the case of 4th downs (cue the discussion about the first possession field goal) and Passing Yards Allowed. Defense in general is a bit troubling.

Again, it's only two games, and you can dismiss all of this with a wave of your hand, a reference to the offense(s) we've played, and a comment about the Vols' offense hanging its defense out to dry until they were parched and brittle. But these are things to watch going forward.

Categories in which Tennessee is 90th or below
Category 2011 2012 2013 2014 BG OK
First Downs Defense 18 86 45 33 92 91
Scoring Defense 36 104 78 35 82 93
Team Passing Efficiency 69 31 111 70 34 95
Punt Return Defense 85 67 92 11 107 98
Red Zone Defense 47 115 11 124 32 98
Total Defense 28 107 83 36 114 104
Passing Offense 50 15 109 70 76 105
4th Down Conversion Pct 91 80 76 26 70 100
4th Down Conversion Pct Defense 48 86 117 26 102 107
Passing Yards Allowed 12 111 27 22 120 108
Completion Percentage 32 49 109
New this year: Everything you see up there except Red Zone Defense.
Climbing out of the gutter this week:
Passing Yards per Completion, Sacks Allowed, Tackles for Loss Allowed.

THE BIG FAT MIDDLE

Here's the visual of the point I made in the first section. You want to see red turn to yellow and yellow turn to green. You do not want to see green turn to yellow. It's primarily penalties, but it's also Red Zone Offense (hit the repeat button on the discussion about the first possession field goal).

As I've mentioned, it's only two games' worth of data, and so many of the rest of the teams ranked have compiled numbers against a pair of cupcakes. We are, after all, currently running with the first team in Strength of Schedule. But the penalties are troubling.

Categories in which Tennessee is in the Middle of the Rankings
Category 2011 2012 2013 2014 BG OK
Scoring Offense 106 22 94 62 13 32
Team Sacks 100 98 99 29 29 37
Red Zone Offense 58 29 100 5 61 38
3rd Down Conversion Pct 56 81 92 78 19 39
First Downs Offense 98 20 101 54 14 40
Passes Intercepted 86 56 40 15 45
Fumbles Recovered 71 113 29 78 21 47
Turnovers Gained 91 95 35 34 60 55
3rd Down Conversion Pct Defense 57 50 91 14 27 58
Time of Possession 37 116 91 51 27 61
Total Offense 104 18 102 90 14 61
Rushing Defense 69 85 100 65 53 64
Passing Yards per Completion 115 116 40 68
Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game 51 67 21 6 44 70
Sacks Allowed 40 5 21 117 27 71
Fewest Penalty Yards 9 45 72
Fewest Penalties Per Game 56 92 26 7 22 74
Team Passing Efficiency Defense 58 24 86 74
Fewest Penalties 13 23 77
Tackles for Loss Allowed 38 9 37 122 54 89

Players in the Top 30

Mayhem. And how about some props for Trevor Daniel? Dude's wrecking it.

Player Stat 2011 2012 2013 2014 BG OK
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Solo Tackles 12 2
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Total Tackles 2
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Fumbles Recovered 2 4
Trevor Daniel Punting 4
Todd Kelly, Jr. Interceptions 6
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Tackles For Loss 7
Jalen Hurd Rushing TDs 3 8
Evan Berry Kickoff Returns 8
Cameron Sutton Punt Returns 4 13
Ethan Wolf Receiving TDs 4 16
Jalen Hurd Scoring 4 16
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Forced Fumbles 19
Joshua Dobbs Points Responsible For 18 25
Jalen Reeves-Maybin Sacks 25
Jalen Hurd Rushing Yards 29 26
Jalen Hurd Rushing Yards Per Game 29 28
Evan Berry Combined Kick Returns 29
Alvin Kamara Rush Yards Per Carry 9
Alvin Kamara Rushing Yards 14
Alvin Kamara Rushing Yards Per Game 14
Cameron Sutton Combined Kick Returns 17
Jalen Hurd Points Responsible For 18
Joshua Dobbs Points Responsible For Per Game 19
Jalen Hurd Points Responsible For Per Game 19
Alvin Kamara Scoring 26
Ethan Wolf Scoring 26
Derek Barnett Tackles For Loss 6
Cameron Sutton Punt Return TDs 11
Curt Maggitt Sacks 15
Aaron Medley Field Goals Per Game 17
A.J. Johnson Total Tackles 4 19
Derek Barnett Sacks 20
Cameron Sutton Passes Defended 24
A.J. Johnson Solo Tackles 25
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