For years, the Thursday morning slot here at Rocky Top Talk has featured a game preview branded "The Statsy Preview." When I started it years ago, most previews by newspaper reporters were still previewing games by comparing quarterbacks to quarterbacks, offenses to offenses, defenses to defenses, and so on. But an offense doesn't play the other team's offense, so it was kinda sorta novel at the time to actually compare the units that would actually be facing off against each other. It's an intentionally simple analysis that doesn't dive as deep as some advanced stats nerds would prefer, but it does a pretty good job of serving as a jumping off point for discussion.
This year, though, I've sort of taken the statsy out of the Statsy Preview. I always do it early in the season because stats don't make a lick of sense after only one or two games, but this year I also haven't been able to get comfortable with phasing it back for one primary reason: I believe that Tennessee's stats don't describe who they are at all. Or more precisely, the Vols' stats are a compilation of numbers from two very different teams, one that isn't really all that great in the first half and one that is a world-beater in the second.
Maybe that's just who they are and will always be this season, and if that's the case then you have to account for both halves. But I'm still holding out hope that we're rooting for a team that just hasn't put it all together yet for an entire game yet and for whom the full-game boxscores to date only tell a muted version of the truth.
That may be the longest caveat (in a long list of caveats) ever introducing the Thursday Statsy Preview, but it's necessary because I'm about to make a prediction that is incongruent with the numbers.
Let's start, though, with where the numbers are probably right. Texas A&M's run game is frightening. They are currently averaging nearly 260 yards per game on the ground, far better than anyone else the Vols have played so far this season. Trayveon Williams averages nearly a first down (9.02 yards) per carry. Such an effective and explosive run game also improves the passing game by extension, and the numbers bear that out as well. The Aggies are piling up about 260 yards through the air, which also makes them the best passing team the Vols have faced all year. So yeah, A&M is probably the best offense we've seen all season.
The defense, too, is strong, although it appears that it may break like cast iron but bend like an Olympic gymnast. They're nothing special at keeping opponents from moving the ball, both on the ground and through the air, but they are exceptional at keeping points off the board.
So when you compare the season stats compiled by the A&M offense and their red zone defense to Tennessee's corresponding numbers on the opposite side of the ball, you will wonder how in the world Tennessee will be able to keep up in this game.
If that feels familiar, it's because it's the same sensation you've had after bad starts in every game this season. When Tennessee and Florida went to the locker room at halftime, my 14-year-old daughter said, "Well, we can come back. We were behind in the other two games." And because I'm trying to make her a fan, I just nodded and said, "Yeah. You're right." But I was thinking, "But we can't overcome a 21-point deficit when we can't score and can't stop them from scoring."
But that's exactly what the Vols did, in that and every other game so far this season. Tennessee has gone into every one of its first five games as the favorite in the first quarter and the underdog in the third. The A&M game will be the first time the team begins as the underdog. Maybe it's the motivation the team needs to focus for the entire 60 minutes and finally put a check mark next to Neyland's Maxim #7.
Regardless, it is absolutely crucial that the team put together a complete game this week. Unleash Josh Dobbs early. Catch every pass. Let the other team commit penalties. Hold on to the ball. Finish plays to the whistle and run through the back of the end zone on touchdowns. Continue to do all of those little things that give them a sneaky good field position advantage that can win games even when they do take a half off. In short, focus. Every snap. Every quarter. Every half.
If they don't do that for all 60 minutes this week, if they instead put together a box score with a bunch of awesome weighed down by an equal amount of apathy, the Statsy Preview says they're likely to score 28 points or less and lose.
But if the Vols focus for the entire game this week in College Station, they can certainly win, and if they do, they'll set up a special night in Neyland next week that we haven't seen here in a very, very long time.
And because I believe that they will in fact put together a complete game this week for the first time this season, I'm going with Tennessee 35, Texas A&M 31.
Here are the tables for this week, for whatever they're worth:
Processing Tennessee vs. Texas A&M.
|Tennessee||Texas A&M||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. Texas A&M rushing defense||174.6||134.8||Georgia||Appalachian State||Georgia||Appalachian State||160|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. Texas A&M passing defense||207.0||253.4||None||Appalachian State||None||Appalachian State||250|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. Texas A&M rushing offense||149.0||258.6||Appalachian State||None||Appalachian State||None||220|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. Texas A&M passing offense||211.8||262.4||Virginia Tech||None||Virginia Tech||None||220|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. Texas A&M scoring defense||33.0||15.4||Virginia Tech||Florida||Virginia Tech||Florida||38|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. Texas A&M scoring offense||23.0||39.2||Ohio||Virginia Tech||Ohio||Virginia Tech||28|
Processing Texas A&M vs. Tennessee.
|Texas A&M||Tennessee||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Texas A&M rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense||258.6||149.0||Auburn||None||Auburn||None||220|
|Texas A&M passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense||262.4||211.8||Prairie View A&M||Arkansas||Prairie View A&M||Arkansas||220|
|Texas A&M rushing defense vs. Tennessee rushing offense||134.8||174.6||UCLA||Arkansas||UCLA||Arkansas||150|
|Texas A&M passing defense vs. Tennessee passing offense||253.4||207.0||South Carolina||Auburn||South Carolina||Auburn||210|
|Texas A&M scoring offense vs. Tennessee scoring defense||39.2||23.0||Arkansas||UCLA||Arkansas||UCLA||31|
|Texas A&M scoring defense vs. Tennessee scoring offense||15.4||33.0||UCLA||Arkansas||UCLA||Arkansas||28|