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Tennessee Slow Starts & Fast Finishes

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The numbers prove what our eyes already know: Bob Shoop and Josh Dobbs are significantly stronger as the game goes on.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

A look at Tennessee’s advanced statistical profile shows a couple of clear things the Vols have excelled at. One, to no surprise, is field position: Tennessee’s average starting field position is its own 37 yard line, second best in the nation. And the opponent’s average starting field position is its own 26, 19th best in the nation.

Just behind field position advantage has been Tennessee’s defense in preventing explosive plays. The Vols are sixth nationally in IsoPPP allowed, which is essentially a measure of how explosive an offense’s successful plays are. Tennessee has allowed only 16 plays of 20+ yards, 10th nationally among teams who have played five games and tied with Alabama and South Carolina for the best in the SEC.

Here are the 16 20+ yard plays the Vol defense has allowed:

  • 1Q Appalachian State: Marcus Cox 20 yard run (two plays after Cam Sutton fumbled the punt, led to first AppState touchdown)
  • 2Q Appalachian State: Marcus Cox 33 yard TD on the wheel route
  • 1Q Virginia Tech: Jerod Evans to Sam Rogers for 30 yards (led to first VT touchdown)
  • 1Q Virginia Tech: Travon McMillian 69 yard TD run
  • 2Q Ohio: Greg Windham to Sebastian Smith for 42 yards (led to field goal)
  • 2Q Ohio: Greg Windham to Sebastian Smith for 29 yards (led to field goal)
  • 3Q Ohio: Greg Windham to Sebastian Smith for 37 yards (led to touchdown)
  • 1Q Florida: Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway for 51 yards (led to touchdown)
  • 1Q Florida: Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway for 43 yards (led to touchdown)
  • 2Q Florida: Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway for 20 yards (led to touchdown)
  • 2Q Florida: Austin Appleby to Tyrie Cleveland for 36 yards (same drive, led to TD)
  • 2Q Florida: Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway for 20 yards (led to punt, final drive of half)
  • 4Q Florida: Austin Appleby to C.J. Worton for 22 yards (led to final TD)
  • 2Q Georgia: Sony Michel run 22 yards (second play after Hurd fumble, led to TD)
  • 3Q Georgia: Jacob Eason to Isaac Nauta for 50 yard TD
  • 4Q Georgia: Jacob Eason to Riley Ridley for 47 yard TD

Twelve of the 16 20+ yard plays the Vols have allowed have come in the first half. One of the four that didn’t came on Florida’s final drive with the Vols playing softer coverage and the gain only good for 22 yards. Ohio and Florida clearly had fun with Cam Sutton’s absence.

Whatever Bob Shoop is doing at halftime, it’s working. Appalachian State got zero in the second half. Virginia Tech got three on the starters. Ohio got seven. Florida got five straight three-and-outs and an interception before needing 16 plays to get their only score of the second half.

In the second half last week, Georgia basically got only big plays. Their drives went punt, 50-yard touchdown, three-and-out, failed fourth down conversion, three-and-out, end zone fumble, interception, 47-yard touchdown.

First half Bob Shoop is on the hot seat. Second half Bob Shoop is a head coach waiting to happen.

And he’s not the only one transforming in the second half:

Josh Dobbs CMP ATT PCT YDS TD INT YPA CAR YDS YPC
First Half 39 74 52.7 404 3 3 5.5 29 91 3.1
Second Half 38 59 64.4 631 10 3 10.7 36 176 4.9

First half Josh Dobbs is an average quarterback. Second half Josh Dobbs is a Heisman candidate.

How do the Vols fix it? Fewer drops would help. With a five game trend now it’s easy to say play-calling should be called into question, but simple execution is just as likely a suspect. The Vols did get their offensive act together before halftime against Virginia Tech and Georgia (and the opening drive against Ohio).

Whatever the Vols are doing early, once they get rolling they don’t get stopped. Florida (2nd) and Virginia Tech (9th) are Top 10 defenses in yards allowed, and both ate a 30+ point run from this team. With Texas A&M and Alabama next, the need for the Vols to get going sooner has never been greater.