(Part one of a two-part series on Tennessee football.
Part one pertains to offense. Part two tomorrow will focus on defense.)
By Jimmy Hyams
Since 2014, only 14 teams from the SEC East Division have had a .500 record or better in conference play.
How have those teams done statistically? How many points did they score and allow? How many yards did they gain and surrender?
Thanks to the handy work of John Pennington with the Sports Source, we know.
Coming off an 0-8 SEC disaster, how does Tennessee compare?
Answer: Not favorably.
How close are the Vols to reaching the numbers of those .500 teams?
Let’s examine. First let’s look at the offense.
Over the past four years, those 14 teams who went at least 4-4 in the league averaged 27.6 points per game in SEC play only.
Tennessee averaged 14.1 last year.
Four times, UT scored 10 or fewer points (against Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and LSU).
Two other times, the Vols scored 20 or less (Florida and Missouri).
Only twice did Butch Jones’ team exceed 20 points in a conference game (Kentucky, Vanderbilt).
This season, there’s a chance UT won’t score more than 10 points against Georgia, Alabama or Auburn.
The Vols should score more than 20 again against Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
That leaves Florida, Missouri and South Carolina. I could see the Vols getting at least 20 against two of those three teams, but not all three.
For UT to average 20 points in SEC games, it has to score 160 points. It scored 113 last year.
I could see a jump of a touchdown per game for Tennessee. In fact, averaging 20 points in league play is a reasonable goal.
But I think the Vols will fall well short of averaging 27.6 points in league play this fall.
SEC teams with at least a .500 conference mark the past four years averaged 188.4 rushing per game.
Tennessee averaged a miserable 108.8 rushing yards v. SEC foes last year. In three games, UT had fewer than 70 rushing yards (Georgia, Alabama, Vanderbilt). It rushed for at least 180 against three teams (Florida, Kentucky, LSU). It averaged 133 against South Carolina and Missouri.
Tennessee will be more run-oriented this season – or, at least, try to be. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to run if you’re down more than two touchdowns in the second half.
The Vols won’t run a hurry-up offense, will be more conscious of field position and will try to limit the number of possession in a game to 10 to 12, rather than 14 to 16. That would help protect the defense to a degree and result in lower scoring games.
But can UT’s offense line (overwhelmed at times last year) hold up in the power running scheme Jeremy Pruitt wants to implement?
UT will have trouble rushing for more than 100 yards against Georgia, Alabama and Auburn – and maybe Florida. It should exceed 150 against Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.
The net result: UT will average between 125 and 140 rushing yards per game in SEC play, about 50 yards per game short of the goal to get to .500.
SEC teams with at least a .500 mark the past four years averaged 198.0 passing per game.
Tennessee averaged 166.1 last year
Tennessee had three games in which it passed for fewer than 82 yards (Georgia, Alabama, LSU). It had less than 150 in two other games (South Carolina and Missouri). Only twice did it exceed 200 yards (Florida, Kentucky).
Tennessee should be a more efficient passing team this fall but don’t look for many 200-yard passing games. And while you might be forced to pass when behind in the second half in some games, you’re also more vulnerable to quarterback pressures and sacks.
Tennessee could average 30 more passing yards per game, which would put them close to 200 per game. But I’ve got them slightly below that.
Statistically speaking, Tennessee is at least a year away from being a .500 team in the SEC.