After four weeks of football, the Vols rank among the SEC leaders in several categories and are even among the nation’s leaders in others. Here’s a look at how they stack up nationally including drastic improvement in several areas.
Penalties: Despite playing more true freshmen than anyone in the country, the Vols have been penalized just nine times this season. They rank 3rd nationally in penalties per game (3.0) and 1st in penalty yards per game (21.3). That’s right, the young Vols are the least penalized team in the nation. This isn’t a new thing, either. Last year the Vols ranked 21st in penalty yards per game. The year prior to Jones taking the reins of the program, the Vols ranked 66th. Butch Jones’ ability to get his young guns ready for the field is a testament to his teaching ability and the caliber of players he recruits.
3rd Down Defense: The Vols have allowed opponents to convert just just 10 of their 43 3rd down attempts (23.26%) – good for 2nd nationally. They ranked 92nd in the same category last year thanks to allowing opponents to covert 42.51% of the time. That’s a drastic improvement. The defense has simply been able to get off the field this year. And when opponents go for it on 4th down? The Vols have been almost as good – allowing conversions 28.57% of the time, which ranks 25th nationally. Tennessee finished 119th in the same category last year by allowing opponents to convert 75.00% of their 4th down tries.
Opponent Long Plays: Tennessee has allowed 35 plays of 10+ yards so far this year – 19th nationally. The Vols ranked 55th in that category in 2013. It’s easy to see there haven’t been near as many defensive busts this year and Tennessee’s increase in team speed has made a big impact and limited explosive plays.
Total Defense: A year after finishing 84th nationally in total defense, the Vols are in the top-40. Tennessee is allowing 343.0 yards per game (38th nationally), which is fewer than defending national champs Florida State (364.3) and fewer than everyone’s pick to win the Big 12, Oklahoma (349.8). If you’ve watched the Vols at all this year, you know the defense is improved. The stats back that up. Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek has more weapons to work with and has used his personnel in creative ways in a variety of formations. He’s made opposing coaches prepare for multiple looks and groupings and Jancek definitely deserves credit for Tennessee’s defensive performance thus far.
A.J. Johnson: Tennessee’s senior linebacker stands at 2nd in the SEC with 9.67 tackles per game. He’s playing faster and making more tackles close to the line of scrimmage. He clearly made the right decision to return for his senior year.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: In his first year seeing significant snaps at linebacker, Reeves-Maybin has proven to be one of the SEC’s best. He ranks 3rd in the SEC with 8.33 tackles per game and is an upgrade at outside linebacker.
Justin Worley: He leads the SEC with 40.0 pass attempts per game. The staff is asking a lot of him and he’s handling it much better than last year. Ideally he wouldn’t have to throw that much, but that’s just where the Vols are with a revamped offensive front.
Jalen Hurd: Tennessee’s 5-star freshman has carried the ball 16 times per game this season which puts him at 5th in the SEC in attempts per game. Hurd has more rushing attempts per game than Mike Davis, Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon. Hurd also ranks 12th in the SEC in rushing (69.67 yards per game).