So here’s the thing about statistics. You can always find a way to make the numbers work in your favor.
Remember when Butch Jones would talk about how many players he had on Tennessee’s roster who weren’t even on a plane for an SEC road game? It served as a preemptive strike if things went wrong.
That said, there are some numbers the Vols need to iron out if 2022 is going to be a successful season.
1. 15 straight losses to the Big 3
Yes, Tennessee has lost 15 straight to Alabama. Yes, Tennessee has lost 14 of 15 in Florida. Yes, Tennessee has lost 5 straight to Georgia. Are those bad numbers? Yes, my friend, they are.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and expecting the Vols to change direction all these generations is unrealistic.
However, winning at least 1 of these games is not unrealistic.
Since 2017, the Vols have lost each of their games to the Tide, Gators and Bulldogs. Rarely have the races been even close. It’s 15 games in a row that Tennessee has dropped to its biggest rivals.
The Vols could go 9-3 this year, but without a program-defining win if that trend continues.
2. Penalty against ranked opponents
Obviously, the Vols want to win all of their games, but beating a ranked opponent means a little more. It’s a sign that they won’t be pushy anymore.
Online sports betting in Tennessee officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the largest sportsbooks are live and operating in the volunteer state. Tennessee is just one of several SEC football states with legalized sports betting.
But self-inflicted injuries have been a problem over the last 3 seasons. Since 2019, Tennessee has played a ranked foe 13 times and won just once. Seeing more yellow flags hasn’t helped matters.
In 2019, the Vols played a ranked opponent 3 times, losing all 3 contests. They averaged 8.7 penalties in those losses, 2.3 more than their season average.
In 2020, the Vols played a ranked opponent 5 times, losing all 5 contests. They averaged 7.3 penalties in those losses, 1.2 more than their season average.
In 2021, the Vols played a ranked opponent 5 times, winning only the Kentucky game. They averaged 8.6 penalties in those games, nearly 2 more than their average.
A more disciplined effort would be a boon for the Vols when facing ranked opponents.
3. Third and fourth down defense
The defense has to stop if the Vols are going to win games. That’s the same truth for teams across the country.
It could be even more important for the Vols. With tight end Josh Heupel in the game, UT’s defense doesn’t have much time to rest after a drive.
Since 2017, Tennessee’s defense has allowed FBS opponents to convert on third down 40 percent fewer times. Last season, the Vols were hit on 43.7 percent of those plays.
Teams are going for him 4th down than ever, and the numbers are very similar for Tennessee in that category as well. Last season, the Vols allowed 42.3 percent of 4th downs to be converted in FBS play.
Improvement in this area can also serve as a quick move.
4. Earn turnover margin at home
Taking care of the football is crucial. For whatever reason, Tennessee has had some trouble in this category when playing games at Neyland Stadium.
Since 2017, only 1 season has ended with the Vols in positive home run differential territory. In the last 2 years, Tennessee is a combined minus-5.
Fortunately, Tennessee has a quarterback in Hendon Hooker who rarely gets picked. Now if the defense can become a little more opportunistic, that trend could turn around for good.
5. Fastest early season start
Since 2015, Tennessee’s passing attack hasn’t clicked in its early contests. In August/September, the Vols have averaged no more than 218 passing yards in those games, and that came in Heupel’s first year.
(For the purposes of this discussion, we are not including 2020, as Tennessee only played 1 game early due to a delayed start to the season due to COVID.)
Tennessee has been above its season passing average just once during that stretch, in 2017. Even then, the Vols didn’t average more than 200 yards in August/September contests.
The Vols play Pittsburgh and Florida in September. They will probably need a more impactful passing game to get those 2 early wins.