The Tennessee Volunteers played a double overtime game with the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday, but it never should have gotten to the extra frames. The Vols had control for three quarters but really gave it away at the end.
This review is based on Bill Connelly's Five Factors of winning, sacks are counted as pass plays, and it doesn't include Tennessee's kneel down at the end of the second half. And for any Sooner fans visiting: UT means Tennessee in SEC territory. I know it means Texas to you, but just bear with me for this post.
Neither team was able to break off many big plays.
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
The Vols were able to get some in the run game, but overall, neither defense found itself allowing many big gainers. Each team had at least a couple of these called back for penalties, Tennessee more than OU I think, but the plays may not have been so successful absent the holding.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
Both teams were well under average (low 40s) in success rate, but I can only chalk so much of that up to the defenses.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
Joshua Dobbs lost his accuracy around the third quarter, and Baker Mayfield only had a tenuous grasp on accuracy for most of the game anyway. Neither line was able to hold off defenders all that much, with especially Samaje Perine needing to break tackles to get more than a couple of yards upfield. The defensive fronts should get credit there, of course, but I know both of the Vols' lines are a bit shaky outside of Derek Barnett.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR||OT SR|
ESPN showed a graphic that OU's offense got off to a slow start against Akron, and it happened again here. You can really see the chess match between the Volunteer defense and Sooner offense too. Tennessee's offense started off hot, meanwhile, but it never got up to that level again.
The goose egg in the fourth quarter for the Volunteer offense stands out. UT ran just five plays in the final frame: the second two of a three-and-out that began in the third quarter, and another three-and-out that failed to run much clock. A Jalen Hurd fumble on the first play that lost 12 yards really killed the former, while the latter was hampered by a false start that turned 3rd-and-10 into 3rd-and-15.
Tennessee's offense in the second half stalled out partially due to noticeably more conservative play calling and partially due to lots of first down problems. Whether fumbles, penalties, or poor execution, the Vols couldn't get out of their own way on first down after intermission. During the first half, UT's average distance to go on second down was 6.2 yards. That's not great, but it's manageable. In the second half and overtime, it was 10.4 yards to go. That's no way to go through life.
OU held the ball for most of the fourth quarter, but even the slightly above average success rate doesn't explain it all. On OU's first touchdown drive of the period, defensive holding penalties bailed out the Sooners on 3rd-and-long on two occasions. On the second one, OU's Dede Westbrook managed to recover his own fumble that gave him a couple of extra yards. Later, a pass interference call on a throw that didn't look catchable bailed out the Sooners on a 2nd-and-14, though you can argue that Malik Foreman should have been smarter on the play. These drives weren't classic comeback drives; they used every trick in the book to MacGyver a pair of scores where help from Tennessee (and a little fumble luck) got it done.
Efficiency by Player
Neither quarterback came out of this one smelling like roses.
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
I realize Mayfield will get a lot of credit for engineering the comeback, and he probably should get some, but the comeback was necessary in part due to his scattershot play throughout the game. Several of the passes that Bowling Green connected on to torch Tennessee's secondary were there, but Mayfield couldn't connect on many of them.
I couldn't tell you what exactly happened to Dobbs. Mike Stoops and the OU defense made some adjustments, but he went from mediocre but hanging in there in the first half to outright terrible in the second.
|Dobbs||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
The fact that Tennessee still came within a minute of winning the game anyway tells you how much resistance the Big Orange defense was giving. If not for the aforementioned defensive penalties, UT wins this game despite its quarterback's considerable troubles.
Here is where the receiver tables would normally go, but I don't think there's a lot to learn from them this time. Sterling Shepard and Dede Westbrook were the best on the Oklahoma side with over seven yards per target apiece and success rates of 60.0% and 57.1%, respectively. Josh Smith easily had the best day for Tennessee with 14 yards per target and a success rate of 75% on four targets. Dobbs had a devil of a time getting the ball to Marquez North, who only caught one of five targets. Basically everyone else didn't really stand out because each signal caller couldn't even complete half of his passes.
Hurd carried a big load and did respectably with it. Dobbs wasn't special running the ball overall, but he had a couple of nice runs. Kamara can't disappear like this. Oklahoma didn't seem to have much trouble bottling him up, and accordingly, Mike DeBord didn't call his number much.
As I said before, Perine had to break a lot of tackles to even get to his 3.8 average. Still though, he was situationally good enough to come out with a success rate that was just fine.
It was fun in a retro way to see Mixon and Perine run something close to the actual Wildcat, even if Mixon never threw it. I was glad to see him actually hand it off, as most coaches these days run the air-quotes "Wildcat" as a way to direct snap it to a guy who only ever fakes a handoff.
I didn't include overtime in the following for what should be an obvious reason.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
Tennessee won the field position game handily, which is one big reason why it took OU struggled so much. The Sooners seldom did much while being backed up, and they were literally incapable of sustaining long drives without help. I discussed their long TD drives earlier, but even on the field goal drive of the second quarter—when UT's defense was on its heels temporarily while dealing with Curt Maggitt's injury—an offsides penalty gave OU a first down on 3rd-and-5 after an incompletion.
It's possible that Mayfield took a deeper shot on the play knowing a flag was coming, but nothing he did up to that point in the game suggested he was likely to pick up the first down absent the flag and doing something less risky.
The field position advantage comes out for Tennessee here, as does evidence of missed opportunities. This table also doesn't include overtime.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
When OU had chances to score, it cashed in nearly every time. The Sooners' only failure here was a turnover on downs late in the second quarter.
UT, meanwhile, squandered several scoring opportunities. It missed a field goal early in the third quarter, had to punt after Dobbs took a 12-yard sack to create a 3rd-and-25, and flushed a Mayfield interception 29 yards from pay dirt with Hurd's 12-yard loss of a fumble that made a 2nd-and-22. These are the kinds of things that make a material difference when the game goes to overtime. Turning any of those scoring opportunities into points might've made the lead insurmountable. We'll never know.
The Vols won this thanks to Mayfield tossing a pair of INTs with Dobbs only throwing one. Dobbs's was the worst of them, though, as it came on the game's final play. OU also turned it over on downs one time.
Having gone through the entire game tape earlier today, I wasn't impressed by either team. It's possible that both offenses just had a bad night, and I'm more inclined to believe that on UT's side. I know Dobbs can play better because I've seen him do it. I'm not sure how much better Mayfield can be than that. Watching him was kind of like watching the 40-something guy at the YMCA who can play basketball with guys half his age. He is clearly limited in so many ways, but he largely made the most of what he can do.
Both defensive fronts get good marks for stopping the run and harassing the quarterbacks. Mike Stoops especially should get some credit for the adjustments he made. I come away from this really regretting my preseason pick of Tennessee beating Alabama because that orange O-line is average at best.
OU is in a phase where Bob Stoops is trying to fend off the decline that happens to some coaches when they get well into the double digits of tenure in one place. You know, like what happened to Phillip Fulmer post-David Cutliffe or Mack Brown post-Colt McCoy. It's kind of working, I guess, and Tennessee played even with a team in that phase at home.
If that makes Tennessee "back", then it's back. I still think the Vols are probably still a year away from really being back, but there are nice pieces all around. I'm beginning to wonder if Butch Jones is stuck in the phase Steve Spurrier was in during his first five years at South Carolina of having to teach a program how to win again. It can be tougher than it looks.