Numbers don’t always tell the whole story of a football season, but there are several statistics that stand out for the Vols from their 2016 season. The most important number for the Vols, of course, is their 8-4 record at the end of the regular season. But how did they get there?
There are plenty of stats that help tell the tale of the 2016 Vols, but there are a handful of numbers that are the most definitive and truly show how Tennessee ended up with their disappointing 8-4 record.
Easily the most eye-popping and definitive number for the 2016 Vols is the amount of rushing yards they allowed on the season. The Vols allowed teams to run for 1.58 miles on them this season, and the rushing defense was especially a problem in the last half of the season.
Tennessee allowed 1,625 combined rushing yards to Texas A&M, Alabama, Missouri, and Kentucky in four of their last seven games of the season. The Vols lost to the Aggies and Crimson Tide but were able to defeat the Tigers and Wildcats despite giving up massive amounts of rushing yards.
The Vols may not have allowed as many yards on the ground to both South Carolina and Vanderbilt, but their inability to stop the run in those games still cost them. Tennessee allowed for both teams to have 100-yard rushers and couldn’t get pivotal stops when needed.
Another thing the Vols struggled to do this year was hold on to the ball. Tennessee turned the ball over 25 times in 12 games this season, averaging over two turnovers a game. Not only did they turn it over, but it felt like the Vols would turn it over at the most inopportune times as well.
The Vols’ 25 turnovers were the second-most in the SEC and had them tied for 115th in the NCAA in giveaways. Only nine teams had more turnovers than Tennessee this season. The Vols threw 12 picks and lost 13 fumbles on the season. Their 13 fumbles are tied for the eighth-most in the entire country. Tennessee had four games with three or more turnovers, and seven games with two or more giveaways. The Vols lost three of those seven games.
In Butch Jones’ first three years at the helm of the Vols, Tennessee was one of the more disciplined teams in the SEC. The Vols were first in both 2013 and 2014 in fewest penalty yards per game, and they finished fourth in the conference last season in that same category.
This season was a totally different story, however.
The Vols are currently 12th in the SEC in penalty yards per game with 55.8 yards accumulated per contest. Tennessee averaged 6.2 penalties per game in the regular season after never averaging more than 5.1 penalties a game in their first three seasons under Jones. The Vols were hit with some pretty costly penalties several times this year, most notably a few pass interference flags in crucial moments.
One of the positives from this season for the Vols was the increased explosiveness of the passing game. Tennessee went from just 36 pass plays of 20 or more yards in 2015 to 47 such plays this season. The Vols were tied with Missouri and Arkansas for the third-most pass plays of 20 or more yards in the SEC this season.
The biggest issue the Vols needed to fix on offense this recent offseason was the passing attack. Josh Dobbs and the passing game didn’t turn the ball over much last year, but they also had trouble generating big plays consistently. That changed in a big way this season, and it helped the Vols become more multidimensional on offense.
The Vols struggled with injuries all season, but they were especially a problem once Tennessee started SEC play. And because of all those injuries, the Vols struggled to find consistent starting lineups from game to game.
Including special teams players Trevor Daniel and Aaron Medley, the Vols had just seven players start all 12 games this season. The five offensive and defensive players who started every game this year were Josh Dobbs, Brett Kendrick, Josh Malone, Derek Barnett, and Kendall Vickers. The Vols had a handful of other players start anywhere between 8-11 games, but those were the only players who managed to start every single game of the year.