The Tennessee Volunteers are riding high thanks to an impressive 62-24 domination over the Missouri Tigers last Saturday. All the ratings systems (and pretty much every observer) thought it would be close. Nope! The Volunteers had their most complete game of the season, firing on all cylinders on both sides of the ball.
As you might expect, Tennessee has received huge boosts in most advanced stats following Saturday’s contest. In fact, there are some ratings systems that now have the Volunteers as a top-25 team. While that might be premature, the point is clear: Tennessee showed tons of potential to build on.
If those same systems are to be believed, Tennessee’s momentum has a good chance of continuing on Saturday. Tennessee hosts the South Carolina Gamecocks, who are also 3-2 in the first year of a new head coach. But results for them haven’t been as encouraging. Let’s take a look.
FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index)
Overall: 40th (Last Week: 69th)
Offense: 38th (Last Week: 65th)
Defense: 51st (Last Week: 63rd)
Tennessee’s offense has now begun it’s climb up these rankings. For a little bit, the defense was getting all the love from ratings systems, presumably because they were a bit more consistent than the offense was. After the demolishing of Missouri, Tennessee’s offense looks like it’s taking form. This was the juggernaut fans hoped Josh Heupel could produce. There’s not a single aspect of the offense Tennessee failed at on Saturday. They had explosive running and passing plays, they consistently won at the line of scrimmage, and they had very few negative plays/penalties. The systems loved it.
That being said, I’m not surprised the systems disagree on the defense. When it comes to some of the more accepted advanced metrics on defenses, Tennessee isn’t anything special. They have a fairly average Stuff Rate, Success Rate, Havoc Rate, etc. In some ways that’s better because you pretty much know what you’re getting out of them every week.
South Carolina Gamecocks
This South Carolina team is essentially the polar opposite of what Tennessee just faced in Missouri. Whereas the Tigers (allegedly) had a productive offense and an atrocious defense, the Gamecocks have a stout defense and a struggling offense. Neither of their two FBS wins were pretty. They beat ECU on a last second field goal (after being down most of the game) and struggled to put away Troy. Meanwhile, their losses have been even uglier. A 40-13 blowout loss to Georgia, and a 16-10 loss to Kentucky where the Gamecocks amassed just over 200 yards.
If a blowout occurs Saturday, it’s likely going to come off the back of an invigorated Tennessee defense dominating an inept South Carolina offense. The Gamecocks simply haven’t figured out their identity yet in the first year of the Shane Beamer era. They’re not overly explosive, they don’t have a solid down-to-down success rate, they’re not great running the ball, and they don’t scare anyone when they throw it. They just kind of meander along and hope the defense gives them short field position. That worked against teams like Troy. Will it work against Tennessee?
FPI (Football Power Index)
Overall: 26th (Last Week: 54th)
Offensive Efficiency: 32nd (Last Week: 68th)
Defensive Efficiency: 29th (Last Week: 53rd)
Special Teams Efficiency: 78th (Last Week: 70th)
Head editor Terry Lambert detailed this surge earlier this week. I will simply add that I think Tennessee benefits from the Pittsburgh Panthers continuing to rise up the same rankings. They just similarly demolished a top-50 Georgia Tech team, and the Panthers’ offense is one of the best in the nation. The Volunteers’ close loss in the beginning of the season looks a bit better.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Offensive Efficiency: 113th
Defensive Efficiency: 20th
Special Teams Efficiency: 35th
It would be a mistake to underestimate South Carolina’s defense. Whatever issues previous coach Will Muschamp had, he could recruit the defensive side of the ball with the best of them. Their defensive line boasts former 5-star linemen Jordan Burch and Zacch Pickens, as well as First Team All-SEC defensive end Kingsley Enagbare. The Gamecocks have enough talent to make things competitive.
Yet there’s something interesting here. The South Carolina defensive line is in a completely different tier than the Missouri defensive line, that much is true. But the Gamecocks don’t appear to be exceptionally good at stopping the run. In fact, Troy averaged 4.7 yards-per-carry. Kentucky? 5.2 yards-per-carry. Their team Stuff Rate is poor (14%), and the front seven Havoc Rate (10%) is unimpressive. This is bad news for a defense about to face a Tennessee team who ran wild last week.
South Carolina’s defensive strength is rooted in stopping explosive plays. They grade out quite well in both the rushing and passing categories. In fact, they’re 5th nationally in plays of 20+ yards allowed. This defense seems content with forcing offenses to sustain drives, rather than go for the “home run” plays. Their secondary—despite having less star power than the front seven—is more solid.
More Interesting Stats
This was last week but I thought it was crazy: Tennessee averaged 3.0 Line Yards Per Carry. If you’re wondering what that term means, click here. If a team averages 3.0 Line Yards Per Carry, they rank in the top-10 at the end of the season.
South Carolina’s red zone touchdown percentage is an abysmal 50 percent. That’s good for 104th nationally.
The Gamecocks have produced turnovers at a very high rate. They’ve grabbed nine interceptions and forced seven fumbles through five games. Those are both top-10 nationally.
South Carolina’s offensive sack rate is in the bottom third of FBS teams. They’ve given up 2.4 sacks per game. That’s actually slightly better than Tennessee, who has given up 2.8 per game. Sacks aren’t necessarily attributed to offensive lines, but it does show that both teams might be susceptible in obvious passing downs.
SP+: Tennessee, 81% — Projected Score (32-17, Tennessee)
I will note that SP+ is arguably the highest on Tennessee of all rating systems mentioned here. As explained in previous weeks, I will not post Bill Connelly’s exact content for free. I can say that Tennessee is now a top-25 team. That’s pretty exciting.
FPI: Tennessee, 78.8%
FEI: Tennessee, 68.8% — Projected Score (30.5-21.7, Tennessee)