Call it a lack of adjustments, overall coaching, execution, mindset, youth and inexperience or whatever you’d like. But one thing abundantly clear for UT this year is that the Vols are not getting the job done late against major opponents.
Tennessee blew two-possession leads in the second half against OU and Florida, and then died a slow death against Arkansas as the Razorbacks controlled the final 30 minutes en route to preserving a 24-20 win on Saturday night. The second halves against those major opponents have looked a little bit different, but they’ve all led to the same result – a loss for Tennessee.
Here are a few key numbers that tell the story of UT’s late failures against Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas:
Total points (2nd half/OT):
We’ll dive in a bit deeper, but this is really what it all boils down to. Tennessee has come out of the gates firing against OU, Florida and Arkansas, but can’t consistently find the end zone in the second half. The Vols have just one second-half touchdown, on what looked like a running play that was trying to set up a field goal at Florida that Jalen Hurd was able to break for a score. The other touchdown came in overtime against OU. Outside of those two TDs, two field goals have been all the Vols could muster in the second half of these contests so far in 2015.
Total Yardage (2nd half/OT):
The opponents have done it differently. Florida zipped the ball through the air, Oklahoma mixed it up and Arkansas pounded the ball on the ground. Regardless, opponents have not only controlled the scoreboard, but also have moved the ball seemingly at will in the second half, while UT, after coming out hot offensively in all three games, fizzles down the stretch. The difference is even more alarming in the fourth quarter alone. Opponents hold a 356-141 yard edge in the final 15 minutes of the game, while Arkansas and Oklahoma, in particular, shut the Vols out late with a 211-37 edge in total yardage in the fourth quarter.
Rushing Yardage (2nd half/OT):
This number may not look too alarming off the bat, but take out the Florida game, where the Gators utilized the passing attack to complete their comeback, and the Vols were out-rushed 207-19 in the second half against Oklahoma and Arkansas – both homes games. The Sooners and Hogs both came into Neyland and slammed the door with those efforts on the ground. UT had few answers on the ground. Tennessee’s run game, overall, has taken a step forward and sits in a pretty good spot statistically in the SEC. But if the Vols can’t run late in the game in one-possession contests, Tennessee will continue to struggle to close out games.
Fourth Down Conversions (4th quarter/overtime)
Perhaps no other situation is indicative of how a team handles big-time situations than a fourth down late in the game in a tight contest. The Vols have failed on both of their attempts. Opponents, meanwhile, have thrived, converting 5-of-6, with the only stop coming for UT on an ill-advised fake field goal call late by Bret Bielema during the Arkansas game. This team simply hasn’t shown the ability to be clutch. More close games are coming – it’s difficult to imagine many more games this season where the margin will be more than a score or two either way. The Vols must find a way to start making big plays in big situations if they’re going to salvage this 2015 campaign.
Penalties (4th quarter/overtime)
UT: 10 for 76 yards
Opponents: 4 for 25 yards
This stat is just bizarre. Tennessee was the least-penalized team in the SEC under Butch Jones in both 2013 and 2014. Overall, the Vols are still the third-least penalized team in the SEC so far this year. But, for whatever reason, the Vols fall apart in this area late in games, giving opponents a huge edge. Two late penalties were extremely costly in the Florida game, and the Vols, a team that prides itself on not shooting itself in the foot, continue to help opponents down the stretch in seemingly every way imaginable.