Tennessee was able to put up a lot of yards on Saturday, but it didn’t translate to a ton of points like last weekend. The Vols pitched a shutout on Saturday, defeating UTEP 24-0. But mistakes and sloppy play on both offense and special teams cost them the chance to put up more points than they did.
The Vols racked up over 500 yards of offense for the first time since their Music City Bowl victory over Nebraska in 2016, but they managed just 24 total points because of turnovers and penalties. Tennessee’s defense was stout against a struggling UTEP offense, though, and held the Miners to just 134 total yards of offense and didn’t allow a single point.
Saturday was the last game for Tennessee before the start of their SEC schedule. And they have plenty to work on after this game and after the first three weeks of play.
We go back and evaluate some of the reasons why Tennessee earned the outcome they did. Here are the key numbers from the Vols’ 24-0 victory over UTEP.
Giving it Away
For the first time this season, Tennessee didn’t win the turnover battle. And it cost them points on Saturday.
Not only did the Vols not force a turnover on defense against a team that was very turnover-prone in their first two games of the season, but UT themselves coughed up the ball twice to UTEP. Jeremy Banks extended the ball out at the goal line to try and score and had the ball knocked loose (though replay showed he might’ve been down or that the ball might’ve even crossed the goal line before it came out), and Marquez Callaway fumbled a punt that gave UTEP good field position.
Against teams like UTEP, Tennessee can make those mistakes and it not hurt them in the final outcome. But against teams like Florida, Georgia, and the rest of the SEC teams the Vols will face, those blunders will cost them big time.
Monsters on First Down
Tennessee has proven to be very effective on first down on offense this season, and that continued on Saturday against UTEP.
The Vols averaged nearly 10 yards per play on first down plays, picking up 349 yards on 35 first down plays on Saturday. Tennessee totaled 24 first downs against the Miners and scored all three of their touchdowns on first down. UT’s rushing attack was particularly great on first down, picking up 233 yards on 26 first down carries. Ty Chandler’s 81-yard touchdown run came on first down.
Not only that, but the Vols’ defense was exceptionally stout on first downs in this game.
UTEP managed just 40 yards on 20 first down plays, averaging a mere two yards per play on first down. The Miners only picked up seven first downs in the entire game, and they averaged just 1.7 yards per carry on first down.
Dismal Third Downs
On the flip side, Tennessee wasn’t very good on third downs on offense. At least not till very late in the game. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter and into the fourth that the Vols finally found some rhythm on third downs.
Tennessee converted just 33.3 percent of their third down attempts on Saturday, converting four of their 12 tries on third down. But they were a dismal 1-of-9 on third down to start the game and didn’t pick up their second third down of the game until under two minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Vols consistently faced bad third down distance on Saturday. Seven of their 14 third down attempts were from eight yards or longer, and they still only converted two of their five third down attempts that were four yards or shorter. On the season, Tennessee is converting just 36.1 percent of their third downs, which ranks them 11th in the SEC right now.
For as disappointing as the Vols were on third down on offense, their defense was just as impressive. UTEP managed to convert just two third downs on 14 attempts. The Miners faced 10 third downs of eight or more yards, and both of Tennessee’s sacks they earned in the game came on third down.
Making More Big Plays
The Vols may not have put up as many points as they would’ve liked on Saturday, but they were able to rack up some big plays on offense.
Tennessee ran a season-high 69 plays on Saturday, and they averaged a season-high 7.42 yards per play on those 69 plays as well. The Vols totaled 10 plays of 10 yards or more on the ground and had two passing plays go for over 15 yards against UTEP, and they had two more huge plays on offense this week after totaling several last week too. Ty Chandler’s 81-yard touchdown run was the biggest, and Jarrett Guarantano completed another 50-yard pass in this game, this time finding Josh Palmer for a 53-yard strike early in the second quarter.
On defense, the Vols did a fantastic job of limiting big plays from UTEP’s offense. The Miners only had three plays during the entire game go for 10 yards or more, and their longest play of the game was just 18 yards. UTEP averaged only 2.63 yards per play against the Vols on Saturday.
It wasn’t just turnovers that cost the Vols points against UTEP; penalties also kept points off the board for UT.
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Vols had only committed nine penalties for a total of 67 yards. Those totals were easily the lowest in the SEC and one of the best in all of college football. But on Saturday’s game against the Miners, Tennessee committed eight penalties for 65 yards and actually would’ve had several more if not for UTEP declining a few penalties on third down plays.
One of the more egregious penalties came on a chop block that was called in the red zone that wiped off a Tennessee touchdown. The Vols also had a roughing the passer penalty that gave UTEP a first down. Drew Richmond was called for two holding penalties (one was declined) and had a false start as well.
Tennessee is still tops in the SEC in terms of penalty yards per game, but Saturday was easily the Vols’ sloppiest day of the season so far in this regard. They have to be more on point once SEC play starts up.