While it never got as scary as the 13-3 deficit against Appalachian State, the Vols had a more difficult time than they'd hoped for, needing a fourth quarter touchdown to wrap up a 28-19 victory over the Ohio Bobcats Saturday at Neyland. The sloppiness in the Vols performance was readily apparent, but there were both positives and negatives to take from the win. What were they? On to the trends.
- Efficiency. After two straight games with a lower success rate than their opponent, the Vols were well above average this weekend on both sides of the ball, crushing the Bobcats with a success rate disparity of 51% to 29% (national average: 42%). Mistakes and missed opportunities may have left a sour taste in the mouths of some fans that watched the game live, but on an efficiency basis, Tennessee was dominant (comparable games this season: Indiana/FIU, Boise State/ULL, Auburn/Arkansas State, Houston/Cincinnati).
- Red zone play. On offense: four touchdowns in four scoring opportunities. On defense: one touchdown in five opportunities. Hard to get much better than that.
- Wishing Sutton had gone pro after 2015. Injuries hit the Vols hard against Virginia Tech and even harder against Ohio. Now, in addition to Darrin Kirkland Jr., the Vols are also missing Cam Sutton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin. If you're keeping track at home, those are arguably the three most difficult players to replace on the Tennessee defense. With an exciting new defensive coordinator coming in, it made sense from Sutton to stay for his senior year to try to improve their draft stock. But in hindsight, it's easy to wish he had gone pro. For Cam, so that he wouldn't have been trying to make the league coming off a broken foot. And for Tennessee, so they would've had months to replace him and not days.
- Pressure. This was supposed to be Tennessee's year to make it to Atlanta, and it's definitely supposed to be Tennessee's year to break the losing streak to the Gators. The Vols were favored by double-digits in the offseason and are still favored by more than a touchdown over Florida. Now they'll be trying to pull it off without two--possibly three--of the best defenders on the team. And to top it off, College Gameday is coming to Knoxville for the first time since the last time we faced Florida in what was supposed to be a breakout year. If there was ever a time to learn how to perform under pressure, it's now.
- Discipline. Five fumbles. Multiple dropped passes (one leading to an interception). Missed throws. Busted coverages. Nearly 100 yards in penalties. Whatever your favorite example of sloppy play, Tennessee had it for you on Saturday. The fumbles might fly under the radar, as the Vols didn't lose any, but incessant penalties surely will not. Tennessee committed three defensive penalties on third down. Ohio converted four(!) first downs by penalty. Four of the five Bobcats scoring drives were helped by a defensive penalty from Tennessee. Vols sloppiness was the only reason this game was close.
- Steadiness on the back end. How did Ohio score five times despite a 29% success rate? Three passes of 25+ yards and two pass interference penalties played key roles in the Bobcats' last three scoring drives. Yes, they were playing without Cam Sutton or Malik Foreman, but with Sutton out for the foreseeable future, Tennessee will need to shore up their issues in the secondary without their star corner. And with the four toughest games on the schedule in the next four weeks, they will need to do so sooner rather than later.
- Fumble recoveries. It's almost comical at this point. Tennessee has now fumbled 11 times in three games and only lost one. Even if you think the Vols are genuinely good at recovering fumbles, it's hard to imagine that pace continuing. Tennessee went 0/1 on the defensive end this week, dropping their recovery rate to only 72% on the season. Regression is coming.
- The offensive line. Vols running backs picked up 5.3 yards per carry, their highest total of the season, but the front line was not without its problems. Dobbs was sacked three times, and even some of the better runs (see: 1:52) looked like they were more in spite of the offensive line than because of it. Pundits are already saying that Florida's defensive line against Tennessee's offensive line is the biggest mismatch of next week's matchup. If Tennessee's men up front want to prove them wrong, they'll have to play much better than they have all season.