Tennessee’s football team has a lot of things they need to work on as they hit the heart of their schedule. The Vols’ deficiencies have been exposed in the first month of play, and the most glaring one has nothing to do with one specific position or play-calling; Tennessee’s biggest area of concern they need to address moving forward affects the entire team, though the offense is the bulk of problem.
In every game this season, Tennessee has gotten off to a slow (or even disastrous) start. In all four games, the Vols have played much worse in the first quarter than they have in the remaining three quarters of each contest.
Just how bad has it been? The stats tell the whole story.
Tennessee has been out-scored 24-13 in the first quarter to start this season, but when you look at their match-ups with their only two Power Five opponents so far (West Virginia and Florida), it’s even worse. The Vols haven’t scored in the opening quarter of play against a Power Five opponent yet this year, getting out-scored 24-0 by both the Mountaineers and Gators.
Twice, the Vols have run for negative yardage in the opening quarter of play this season. Tennessee had negative 17 rushing yards in the first quarter against West Virginia, and they had negative one rushing yards against ETSU after one quarter of play. All in all, the Vols have run for just 50 yards total in the first quarter of their first four games, averaging 12.5 rushing yards in the first quarter of games.
On the season, the Vols have allowed six total sacks in four games. But they’ve allowed half their total sack amount in the first quarter of play. Three different times this season, the Vols have given up a first quarter sack. Only UTEP was unable to take down UT’s quarterback in the opening quarter of play.
Tennessee’s defense actually hasn’t been too bad in the first quarter, and their numbers across the board usually get worse as the game goes on. The Vols are allowing 5.88 yards per play in the first quarter while the offense is only managing 3.88 yards per play in the opening quarter. UT’s defense has allowed 5.6 yards per play in the other 12 quarters of play after the first quarter this season, and that’s one of the few areas the defense has shown improvement as the game goes on.
Surprisingly, Tennessee has yet to allow a third down conversion in the first quarter. All four of UT’s opponents this year have failed to pick up a first down on third down, going a combined 0-for-8. Teams have converted 12 of their 41 third down attempts in quarters 2-4 in the first four games.
If you take out Tennessee’s match-ups with ETSU and UTEP, then the contrast between the Vols’ play in the first quarter and quarters 2-4 become even more apparent.
Not only have the Vols been out-scored 24-0 in the first quarter by both their Power Five opponents this year, but they’ve been out-gained 200 yards to 91 yards and are only averaging 2.68 yards per play on offense while allowing 7.69 yards per play in the first quarter.
The most staggering stat is how bad the Vols have been at running the ball in the first quarter against Power Five opponents so far. Tennessee has actually run for a total of negative two yards in the opening quarter against their two Power Five opponents, and West Virginia and Florida managed to total 51 combined yards on the ground in that first quarter.
Tennessee has plenty they need to improve moving forward if they want to have any sort of success this season, but their slow starts have to stop. The Vols have buried themselves in holes in just about every game so far this season, and that’s definitely been the case when they’ve faced off against Power Five teams.
The Vols likely won’t be able to turn the tides in the their favor against their next three opponents. But the rest of their season could hinge on overcoming these rough starts, and it’s something they need to work on.