Can Vols Continue First Quarter Success, Thwart Poor Second Quarters In Heupel’s Second Season?

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    Tennessee was one of the best first quarter teams in the country a season ago, scoring 14 or more points in seven of 13 games including a pair of games scoring 28 first quarter points.

    However, the Vols were nearly as bad in the second quarter. Tennessee’s offense frequently became stagnant while the defensive struggled to get stops. 

    The Vols first half numbers were statistically astounding. Tennessee scored 14.6 points per first quarter, taking an average lead of 10.7 points into the second quarter. The Vols scored just 8.4 points per second quarter as opponents outscored them by an average of 2.6 points.

    So what, getting outscored by 2.6 points in a quarter isn’t even a field goal? Wouldn’t think it’s a big deal. However, when you get deeper in the numbers they pop out even more.

    Let’s remove Tennessee’s three “buy games” against Bowling Green, Tennessee Tech and South Alabama— opponents outscored Tennessee by an average of 5.6 points in the second quarter.

    One last specific example. Look at the three extremely competitive games Tennessee lost a season ago: Pittsburgh, Ole Miss and Purdue. Those three teams outscored Tennessee 57-13 in the second quarter.

    Those were debilitating second quarters that kept Tennessee from adding a few more wins in Josh Heupel’s inaugural campaign.

    Are those first quarter-second quarter splits a complete anomaly or is there something in Heupel’s system that causes this to happen? Can we expect a similar trend to continue into 2022?

    Let’s take a look at the numbers from Heupel’s three seasons at Central Florida to answer.

    The numbers indicate that this is not a trend in Heupel’s system, but rather an anomaly. In two of the coach’s three seasons in Orlando, Heupel’s teams scored more points in the second quarter than they did in the first quarter.

    Averaging the three seasons, UCF scored 11.9 points per first quarter to 12.6 points per second quarter. Tennessee’s 14.6 points per first quarter a year ago was the second most in Heupel’s four years as head coach behind only the 2019 UCF team that averaged 14.7 points in the first quarter.

    Neither of Heupel’s two other UCF teams averaged over 11 points per first quarter. 

    How about the complete numbers? Heupel’s three teams at UCF never came close to having as bad of second quarter point differentials as the 2021 Vols.

    Heupel’s first UCF team is his next lowest second quarter point differential and they outscored opponents by 5.3 points per second quarter.

    Oddly, that was Heupel’s best team at UCF while his worst team — playing no buy games during the COVID-19 shortened season — averaged a tenure high +7.5 second quarter point differential.

    Heupel’s three teams at Central Florida averaged a slightly better second quarter point differential (+6.5) than first quarter point differential (+6.2).

    The pitfalls for Heupel’s teams in Orlando typically came with poor second halves rather than anything in the first half.

    Tennessee could be unbelievable in first quarters again in 2022 and they could be poor in second quarters again. However, Heupel’s coaching history suggests both will come back to the median this fall.

    Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.

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