By Jimmy Hyams
Pass on first down, stop them on third down.
Those might be the keys to success if Tennessee hopes to defeat Florida for only the second time since 2004.
Through three games, Tennessee has been terrific on first-down passes, completing 21 of 25 (84 percent) for 371 yards, or 14.8 yards per completion.
Those first-down throws include plays of 50, 51, 51, 53 and 81 yards.
UT hasn’t been bad on first-down runs, either, with 66 carries for 405 yards, 6.1 per try. But that is skewed by Ty Chandler’s 81-yarder against UTEP.
This season, UT has run 91 first-down plays for 776 yards, 8.5 per play. Average 8.5 on first downs against Florida and UT’s offense should have great success.
While three games is a small sample size, it does indicate the Vols have been much better on first downs than in previous years. UT averaged 5.2 yards on first down in 2017, 7.1 (an outstanding figure) in 2016, 5.4 in 2015, 5.2 in 2014 and 5.5 in 2013.
Tennessee has also been tremendous on third-down defense.
The last two opponents – albeit weak ones – converted just 4 of 29 third-down attempts. In the first quarter against the Vols, West Virginia was 0-for-3.
Thus, in five of six halves this season, Tennessee has allowed 4-of-32 third-down conversions.
UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said a lot of that has to do with what happens on first and second down.
On 15 of those 32 third downs, opponents have third-and-7 or longer.
Tennessee’s third-down offense hasn’t been so efficient, except on third-and-somewhat-long.
UT has converted 36.1 percent (13 of 36) on third down this season. When needing 1 to 3 yards, the Vols are 4-of-7 on third down. When needing 4 to 6 yards, UT is 2-of-8. When needing 7 to 9 yards, the Vols are an exceptional 7-of-12.
But UT has not converted a third-down-and-10-or-more yards yet (0-for-9).
A few other noteworthy stats for Tennessee:
* The Vols haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown in three games for the first time since 2009. The last time UT didn’t allow a rushing score in four games in a row was 2008.
* The last time UT opened a season without allowing a rushing TD in four games was 2001. UT allowed just one rushing score in its first six games that season.
* Florida is the only team in the NCAA to not allow a red zone score (0-for-2). It’s amazing that opponents have penetrated Florida’s 20 just twice in three games. While Kentucky beat Florida, the Wildcats had scores of 29, 53, 24 and 30 and never took a snap inside the Florida 20.
* Kentucky had nine runs of 10 yards or more and four passes of 15 yards or more against Florida.
* Florida had four runs of 10 or more yards and eight passes of 15 yards or more against Kentucky.
* Kentucky ran 19 times for 169 yards (8.9 per play) on first down against Florida while the Gators were 14 for 59 (4.2).
*Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks was six of 17 for 77 yards passing on first down against Kentucky.
*The old adage that the team that rushes for the most yards wins the UT-Florida game no longer holds true. The winning team has been outrushed in the last four meetings.
* Only South Carolina has fewer rushing touchdowns (2) than Florida (3) among SEC teams, and the Gamecocks have played one fewer game.
Odds-makers continue to struggle to hit point spreads of college games.
If Las Vegas picks the right team and the spread is within 7 points, that’s a hit. The record last week: 12-33 with four double-digit favorites losing, two favored by more than 20 points (Northwestern against Akron, Wisconsin against BYU.). Other 10-point dogs winning: LSU over Auburn, Temple over Maryland. Also, Troy, a 9-point dog, beat Nebraska.
A recap of last week:
The hits: I missed Kentucky-Murray State total points by just 8 … I picked Notre Dame by 10 over Vanderbilt, the Irish won by 5 … I picked Georgia 47-7 over MTSU, it was 49-7 … I had UT by 31 over UTEP, Vols won by 24 …
The misses: I had Auburn over LSU and Arkansas over North Texas … I had Alabama scoring just 47 against Ole Miss; the Tide scored 62 … I picked Florida by 4 over Colorado State; Gators won by 38 … Texas A&M (by 38) and Miss State (by 38) won by wider margins that I forecast; I had A&M by 18, State by 24.
Last week: 9-2
My picks for this week
Alabama 48-27 over Texas A&M
Auburn 34-10 over Arkansas
Georgia 37-30 over Missouri
Mississippi State 30-27 over Kentucky
LSU 27-20 over Louisiana Tech
Ole Miss 50-14 over Kent State
South Carolina 24-20 over Vanderbilt
Tennessee 20-17 over Florida
My best bets in the SEC:
Louisiana Tech getting 21 v. LSU
Tennessee getting 6 v. Florida
Missouri getting 15 v. Georgia
Kentucky getting 10 v. Miss State