Through the first seven games of the 2016 season, the Vols’ record stands at 5-2, and they have a 2-2 conference record. But Tennessee’s win/loss record doesn’t tell the whole story of their season thus far. There are a handful of stats that paint the picture of the Vols’ 2016 season and how they got to this point.
Here are the five stats that tell the story of the 2016 Vols through seven games.
In 13 games last season, the Vols turned the ball over a mere 12 times. That was the second-fewest total in the SEC in 2015. Through seven games of 2016, however, Tennessee has coughed the ball up 17 times. That’s the second-highest total in the conference this season.
The Vols have lost eight fumbles and quarterback Josh Dobbs has thrown nine interceptions after throwing just five all of last season. Tennessee most notably had seven turnovers against Texas A&M in Week 6, but turnovers were an issue even before that game.
So far, the Vols have been able to overcome their large number of turnovers aside from the Texas A&M game. But one surefire way to let inferior opponents hang around is to give them free possessions, and the Vols can’t afford to do that down the stretch.
Another area that the Vols have been uncharacteristically sloppy in this year is penalties. So far, Tennessee is averaging 52.6 penalty yards a game, the fifth-most per game in the SEC. Tennessee has been penalized 41 times for 368 yards.
In the first three years under Butch Jones, the Vols never averaged more than 40.8 penalty yards a game. Tennessee was first in the SEC in both 2013 and 2014 for fewest penalty yards, and they finished fourth in the conference last year.
Tennessee’s penalties have been costly this season during defensive drives in particular. A handful of targeting calls and pass interference penalties have swung momentum in games and cost the Vols on defense. Cleaning up their play is a must moving forward.
At this point in the 2015 season, the Vols already had four special teams scores. Evan Berry had three kickoff returns for touchdowns, and Alvin Kamara had returned a punt for a score.
Right now, however, the Vols have a big goose egg in that department.
Teams have recognized how dangerous Tennessee’s return units are and have been doing all they can to avoid them. Kickoff teams have been kicking away from Evan Berry, and punt units have been attempting to negate returns with higher punts so their coverage units can have more time. Then there’s the fact that Cam Sutton has been injured since the Ohio game and hasn’t returned punts, and now Alvin Kamara won’t be back to field punts either.
The Vols haven’t been able to get non-offensive scores this year like they did last season. But they should have some opportunities upcoming.
One of the stats in which the Vols have shown major improvement from last season is in fourth down stops on defense. The Vols’ defense was one of the worst in the country last year when it came to stopping teams on fourth down. Opposing teams converted 18 of their 24 fourth down attempts against the Vols in 2015, which is a ridiculous 75 percent conversion rate. Only three other teams had worse fourth down defenses than Tennessee last year.
Teams would purposely go for it on fourth down against the Vols because they knew how bad Tennessee’s fourth down defense was. The most notorious fourth down conversion, of course, came in the fourth quarter against Florida when the Gators scored the game-winning touchdown on fourth down.
This season, however, has been a much different story.
The Vols have only allowed teams to convert four of their nine fourth down attempts, a 44.4 percent conversion rate. That’s the fifth-best rate in the SEC and a 30-point improvement over last season. More importantly, the Vols haven’t had any costly fourth down conversions at the end of games either.
This number isn’t a stat from the 2016 team so much as it is a reminder of how well the Vols have performed so far this season in comparison to recent history.
For the first time since 2004, the Vols own a victory over Florida and Georgia in the same season. Tennessee hadn’t beaten their two main SEC East rivals in the same season in 11 years until this season, and it took some dramatics for it to happen this year.
The Vols scored 38 unanswered points after trailing 21-0 to Florida to secure a 38-28 victory, and it took a Hail Mary touchdown with no time left on the clock for the Vols to leave Athens, GA with a 34-31 win.
Getting back to relevancy was key for the Vols this season. And the best way to do that was to be competitive in their division again. So far this season, they’ve done just that.