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Tennessee Has The Best Fourth Quarter Offense in College Football

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According to S&P+ the Vol offense has been better than anyone else in the game’s final 15 minutes.

Florida v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

We often reference Tennessee’s advanced statistical profile over at Football Study Hall. It’s helpful in validating some of what we already believe, like how important field position is to this team: the Vols have the ninth-best starting field position nationally and their opponents have the 12th-worst. And it can show us progress still to be made: though the Vols have been better in the downfield passing game this season, they still rank 89th in offensive explosiveness.

And then sometimes it can help us see something positive or negative that isn’t getting nearly enough praise or blame. Case in point: through ten weeks Tennessee still has the highest rated fourth quarter offense in college football in S&P+:

Offense Defense
Avg. Rk Avg. Rk
Q1 S&P+ 122.7 24 96.2 83
Q2 S&P+ 105.7 59 108.6 40
Q3 S&P+ 115.9 32 111.7 31
Q4 S&P+ 135.0 1 99.5 71

At this point every FBS defense the Vols have faced is in the Top 50 in yards per play allowed, including four in the Top 20. That stat that will change over the next three weeks (Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt are all currently between 76th-82nd). But while it still stands, Tennessee’s production against a group of good-to-great defenses with games on the line deserves more attention.

Take out non-competitive fourth quarters against Alabama and Tennessee Tech (plus running out the clock on the final four snaps against Florida), and here’s what Tennessee has done on every fourth quarter drive this year:

Opponent Plays Yards Result
Appalachian State 6 92 TD
Appalachian State 3 -8 Punt
Appalachian State 5 16 Punt
Virginia Tech 1 0 INT
Virginia Tech 3 0 Punt (fumbled)
Virginia Tech 4 43 TD
Virginia Tech 1 4 TD
Ohio 9 81 TD
Ohio 9 47 Punt
Ohio 3 23 End of game
Florida 4 78 TD
Florida 3 42 TD
Florida 4 50 TD
Florida 3 6 Punt
Georgia 1 16 TD
Georgia 2 -3 INT
Georgia 6 32 Punt
Georgia 3 4 Punt
Georgia 1 43 Hail Mary
Texas A&M 4 2 Punt
Texas A&M 13 85 TD
Texas A&M 3 4 Punt
Texas A&M 6 65 TD
Texas A&M 6 80 TD
South Carolina 3 -1 Punt
South Carolina 3 38 Fumble
South Carolina 6 77 TD
South Carolina 1 0 INT
South Carolina 5 46 Missed FG

The totals:  119 plays covering 962 yards, a whopping 8.1 yards per play (the Vols average 5.6 yards per play overall). Thirteen of 29 drives ended with a touchdown, 11 of those 13 covered 40+ yards, and the Vols didn't settle:  the only field goal attempt in this list was the final play of the South Carolina game. And if you want explosiveness, here's what the Vols have done in the fourth quarter of these games, all of them with the outcome in doubt:

  • Appalachian State:  Josh Dobbs to Josh Malone 67 yard TD
  • Virginia Tech:  Dobbs 27 yard TD run
  • Ohio:  Jalen Hurd 28 yard run on 3rd and 1
  • Ohio:  Dobbs to Malone 20 yard TD
  • Florida:  Dobbs to Jauan Jennings 67 yard TD
  • Florida:  Dobbs to Malone 42 yard TD
  • Florida:  Dobbs 22 yard run
  • Georgia:  Hail Mary
  • Texas A&M:  Alvin Kamara 36 yard run on 4th and 1
  • Texas A&M:  Dobbs to Tyler Byrd for 43 yards
  • South Carolina:  John Kelly 34 yard run
  • South Carolina:  Dobbs to Jennings for 25 yards
  • South Carolina:  Dobbs to Jennings for 23 yards
There are plenty of different names in that list, and both big runs and big pass plays.  Dobbs in the fourth quarter this year is 35-of-55 (63.6%) for 581 yards (10.6 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. His eight fourth quarter passing touchdowns are tied with Davis Webb of Cal and Luke Falk of Washington State for the most in the nation. You can take that and say, hey, wouldn't it be great if we needed fewer passing touchdowns in the fourth quarter? Sure. But we have needed them, and Dobbs has delivered more often than not. Only 16 players have caught 3+ touchdowns in the fourth quarter this season, and two of them are Malone and Jennings.

We'd enjoy it if Tennessee runs away from Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt and we see Quinten Dormady in the fourth quarter again. But just how good Josh Dobbs and the Vol offense have been in the fourth quarter is an underappreciated story from this season, and one that will provide additional confidence should Tennessee find themselves in yet another close game at the end.