After two weeks, and two wins, the Vols rank among the SEC leaders in several categories but are lagging behind in others. Here’s a look at how they stack up within the SEC.
Passing: Yards per game – 8th (260.0), Efficiency – 12th (138.69), Yards per attempt – 12th (6.7), Touchdowns – 6th (5), Percentage – 7th (64.1), Attempts per game – 3rd (39)
Analysis: The Vol passing attack is clearly improved after finishing last season dead last in the SEC in efficiency (105.48) and second to last in passing yards per game (164.9). Sure, Tennessee hasn’t played any SEC-level defenses to this point, but improvement across the board is hard to deny. They’re better in every statistically significant category so far this season even though they have some room to grow. Hitting a few deep balls (they’re currently 0-10 by my count) would help their yards per attempt and efficiency – the two categories where they rank near the bottom of the SEC.
Rushing: Yards per game – 11th (139.00), Yards per carry – 12th (3.31), Touchdowns – 8th (4), Attempts per game – 5th (42)
Analysis: As expected, the Vol rushing attack has taken a significant step back and they haven’t even faced a defense with an SEC-level front seven. Tennessee is 50 yards per game behind their rushing average from last season despite almost four more rushing attempts per game. The Vols are also averaging 1.61 fewer yards per attempt than last year. With a rebuilt offensive line, these numbers shouldn’t surprise anyone. Tennessee’s ability to improve these numbers despite facing better competition in the coming months may decide their bowl fate.
Total Offense: Yards per game – 13th (399), Yards per play – 13th (4.93), Plays – 3rd (162), Scoring – 12th (36.0)
Analysis: The Vols averaged just 353 yards per game last year, good for 12th in the SEC. While they are ahead of that pace right now, they’ll face much better defenses in the coming weeks and their numbers will probably even out, especially when you consider they’re averaging .34 fewer yards per play this year than last despite not playing an SEC team thus far. The Vols ran 67 plays per game last year and they are well ahead of that pace so far at 81 plays per game. Tennessee’s pace has definitely taken a step forward – though those numbers will even out as the season progresses, the Vols are clearly playing faster.
Defense: Rushing defense – 7th (120.5 ypg), Yards per carry – 9th (3.65), Passing defense – 4th (167.0 ypg), Opponent yards per attempt – 4th (4.7), Opponent passing efficiency – 4th (99.52), Total defense – 5th (287.5 ypg), Yards per play – 5th (4.20), Scoring defense – 6th (13.0 ppg)
Analysis: Tennessee has improved in all these categories from last year and you should be able to say the same thing at season’s end. The Vol rushing defense went from allowing over 200 yards per game and over 5 yards per carry last season to much more respectable numbers so far. They haven’t faced a true power rushing attack yet, but it’s clear after two games that the Vol defense is better equipped to handle teams that like to attack the edges of the field. The Vol pass defense gave up 7.2 yards per attempt last season – which put them at 9th in the SEC. Fewer busts in the secondary have that number down to 4.7 yards per attempt so far. Tennessee’s improved athleticism across the board should ensure the Vols finish the season with a better defense than the last.
Justin Worley: Yards per game – 5th (260.0), Efficiency – 10th (141.02), Yards per attempt – 10th (6.8), Touchdowns – 5th (5), Attempts per game – 4th (38.0), Completion percentage – 6th (64.5)
Analysis: Worley is playing the best football of his career and has done all the coaches have asked of him. His accuracy has taken a step forward this year but he needs to show the ability to consistently stretch the field in order for the Vols to move the ball against SEC defenses.
Jalen Hurd: Yards per game – 21st (56.00), Yards per carry – 39th (3.29), Attempts per game – 3rd (17.00)
Marlin Lane: Yards per game – 24th (47.50), Yards per carry – 34th (3.96), Attempts per game – 11th (12.00)
Analysis: Offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has tried to get the running game going and two Vol running backs rank in the top-11 in the SEC in carries per game. Tennessee’s two-headed rushing attack hasn’t been very efficient yet but they’ll keep getting their share of carries in an attempt to keep defenses honest.
Marquez North: Yards per game – 22nd (53.0), Yards per catch – 26th (13.25), Yards – 19th (106), Catches per game – 16th (4)
Pig Howard: Yards per game – 40th (33.5), Yards per catch – 43rd (7.44), Yards – 39th (67), Catches per game – 12th (4.5)
Von Pearson: Yards per game – 26th (49.0), Yards per catch – 18th (14.00), Yards – (98), Catches per game – 24th (3.5)
Josh Smith: Yards per game – 36th (38.5), Yards per catch – 15th (15.40), Yards – 34th (77), Catches per game – 37th (2.5)
Analysis: As expected, the Vols receiving corps is deep and talented. Though no single UT receiver ranks in the top-10 in the conference in any category, Worley has spread the ball around and four Vol receivers rank in the top-40 in conference in receiving yards per game. Defenses can’t hone in on one receiver this year. Josh Smith is probably the biggest surprise to most – he leads the Vols with 15.4 yards per reception and should see more touches if Pearson misses any significant time.
A.J. Johnson: Tackles – 1st (18), Passes defended – 3rd (3), Interceptions – 4th (1)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: Tackles – 3rd (16), Tackles for loss – 9th (2.5)
Owen Williams: Sacks – 4th (2)
Analysis: The Vol linebackers feature two of the top three tacklers in the SEC right now. Perhaps even more impressive, both Johnson and Reeves-Maybin rank in the top-10 in the SEC in at least one additional defensive category. Translation: They’re not only making tackles, they’re making impact plays. Owen Williams had a huge game against Arkansas State and if he can play like that moving forward, he’ll surprise some folks with a big year.
Matt Darr: Punts per game – 1st (7), Yards per punt – 12th (38.64)
Analysis: Among players with more than one punt, Darr ranks last in the SEC in average. That’s obviously not a great spot but that number is a little misleading. Six of his 14 punts have pinned opponents inside the 20 and his low average has largely been due to working with a small field. He has punts over 50 yards in each of his games this season and has the leg to boom one when needed.