A sold out Neyland Stadium. A Tennessee football team fresh off back-to-back SEC wins. A No. 13 ranked Ole Miss team led by former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin. Bad blood, good offenses. Saturday’s game will have it all, so to speak.
It’s interesting to think that this contest was once considered a likely Ole Miss victory. Nobody in the preseason would have picked Tennessee to win this one. But it has now become a coin flip game. Part of that is a resurgent Tennessee squad, while the other part is an Ole Miss team struggling to find balance.
Throughout the week, you may have heard that this game will be a battle between two high-powered offenses. A classic shoot out, with the over/under being set at a comically high mark.
You’ll be happy to know that the stats back this up. As part of this week’s numbers dive, we’re able to add even more statistics that help tell the story of these two teams. The overall picture is a fascinating one—and is likely to give Tennessee fans a lot of hope heading into Saturday.
FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)
Overall: 37th (Last Week: 40th)
Offense: 25th (Last Week: 38th)
Defense: 63rd (Last Week: 51st)
The numbers for Tennessee (and for a lot of teams) are starting to stabilize as more data is input into the systems. Six weeks into the season, we more or less know what Tennessee looks like. Some of these numbers can still fluctuate, but not as much as they might have after week one or two. Keep in mind that none of these systems can really account for injuries either.
Hence why Tennessee’s numbers remain similar. Saturday’s 45-20 win over South Carolina looked a lot like the 62-24 win over Missouri. That means no big changes. The ratings systems agree that Tennessee’s offense continued to improve, while their defense stood pat.
Ole Miss Rebels
Here’s the really exciting part if you are a Tennessee fan: The Ole Miss defense is much closer to Missouri’s than it is Florida’s—or even South Carolina’s. Rebels fans saw some encouraging performances early in the year, but in their last two games against Alabama and Arkansas, the weaknesses have begun to rear their ugly heads.
The Rebels are currently surrendering over 190 rushing yards per game, to go along with over 230 passing yards per game. It’s not an issue with attempts either—Ole Miss has poor success rates on standard downs, and is simply average when defending the passing game. Arkansas had an absurd 350 rushing yards on 6.0 yards-per-carry last week, in case you were wondering if it was just a byproduct of the Alabama game.
Pretty much the only area of the defense that can be considered above average is their ability to prevent explosive running plays. On a down-to-down basis, they do surrender yards. But they don’t allow many “home run” rushing attempts. The same cannot be said for their passing defense, which surrenders a lot of explosive plays.
FPI (Football Power Index)
Overall: 23rd (Last Week: 26th)
Offensive Efficiency: 21st (Last Week: 32nd)
Defensive Efficiency: 29th (Last Week: 29th)
Special Teams Efficiency: 72nd (Last Week: 78th)
More of the same here. I would be interested in seeing the exact reason that Tennessee’s special teams rank poorly. They did give up a fake punt touchdown to South Carolina, as well as a kickoff return touchdown against Missouri. But their return game seems decent, and kicker Chase McGrath has yet to miss an extra point—while also converting on 6/7 field goal attempts. I will look more into this one in the coming days.
Ole Miss Rebels
Offensive Efficiency: 10th
Defensive Efficiency: 87th
Special Teams Efficiency: 11th
Now for some good news for Ole Miss: As bad as they are on defense, their offense is just as good. The exact areas their defense does poorly in, their offense excels in. There’s basically not a single category they don’t grade well. They are explosive in the passing game with Matt Corral (who has yet to throw an interception); their rushing attack is one of the best in the nation; they have great success rates on standard downs, etc.
It’s also hard to get negative plays against them. They rank in the top-40 for sacks allowed and tackles-for-loss allowed. Tennessee’s defense is No. 2 nationally in tackles-for-loss, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets the upper hand.
Football Outsiders Line Stats
This is an exciting addition to these pieces. Football Outsiders finally unveiled their offensive line stats for the 2021 college football season up to this point. While some other sites had bits and pieces of these numbers, this is the first week they’ve been unveiled in their entirety. This collection is probably the most accurate set of numbers for judging an offensive and defensive line—two parts of football which are a bit hard to quantify completely.
Now that being said, they are not the end-all, be-all of judging those lines. The eye test does still hold weight. A good example would be Sack Rate numbers. Those are often reliant on the quarterback just as much as the offensive/defensive line. Some quarterbacks could have a full five seconds to throw, but if they’re statues in the pocket and won’t throw the ball in time, they’ll still get sacked. That number unfortunately gets added to the offensive line’s total, even though they did their job.
If you need a summary of what these terms mean, click here. Click “This table explained” right below the title.
Sound the alarms! Tennessee is No. 1 in a category! Being first overall in Stuff Rate means Tennessee very rarely sees their rushing attempts get stopped before the line of scrimmage. If they’re running the ball, they’re gaining yards almost no matter what. Power Success Rate indicates that when they need a few yards to get a first down, they are very successful at doing so.
The Sack Rates are...not good. Again, it’s a bit of a noisy stat, and there’s been a few sacks that are solely on the quarterbacks standing around too long. You’d still want to see some better numbers, especially in something like Passing Downs Sack Rate. This indicates that when teams know Tennessee is passing—likely on 3rd-and-long plays—they are able to bring down the quarterback somewhat easily. That’s not great news against an Ole Miss defense which excels in that area.
As for the defensive line, it’s about what we expected. They’re not going to wow anyone with their dominance, but they will do their job and put up resistance. One area of concern is the pass rush. Tennessee’s Sack Rates are middling, but their Passing Down Sack Rate is discouraging. The Volunteers have largely relied on their defensive backs and linebackers for more of the havoc plays. That’s fine, but with the talent Tennessee recruited at the defensive line, you’d hope they could see more results there.
Ole Miss Rebels
Somewhat of a similar story with the Ole Miss offensive line. The Rebels rank highly in Line Yards Per Carry, and their Opportunity Rate is markedly better. They also take much fewer sacks, thanks to Matt Corral’s decision making and ability to find open guys.
An interesting wrinkle is the Power Success Rate being so poor. This would essentially indicate that Ole Miss’ offensive line is dynamite on the early downs—but when it comes to short yardage situations, they can’t convert. Part of this is how aggressive Lane Kiffin is in those situations, but part of it would seem to be their line being unable to get a good push.
As for the Ole Miss defense...
It starts on the defensive line. Ole Miss suffers from a lack of talent, and that deficiency is pronounced in the numbers. The only two categories where Ole Miss has any success is the Power Success Rate and Passing Downs Sack Rate.
Essentially, when the Rebels know a short yardage run is coming, they can stop it. Similarly, when they know the offense has to pass it to keep a drive going, they can get to the quarterback. But in almost every other situation, they fail to put up resistance.
SP+: Tennessee, 59% — Projected Score (33-29, Tennessee)
FPI: Tennessee, 53.8%
FEI: Ole Miss, 51.7% — Projected Score (33.5-32.8, Ole Miss)