The Tennessee Volunteers won the Battle at Bristol by a comfortable three-touchdown margin, but it wasn't as dominant of a win as it might have looked. The Virginia Tech Hokies gave it a good effort but sabotaged themselves as much as the Vols beat them.
This review is based on Bill Connelly's Five Factors of winning, sacks are counted as pass plays, and it doesn't include the play before halftime when VT was killing the clock. It also ends when UT scored a touchdown to go up 38-17 in the fourth quarter, as the game entered garbage time by the Football Outsiders definition (not within 16 points is the threshold for the final frame).
|Team||Runs 10+||Pct.||Passes 20+||Pct.||Explosive Pct.|
The Vols did a better job than last week at generating big plays, and it's no surprise why. With Joshua Dobbs able to run the ball—it was obvious UT didn't want him carrying it and risking injury against App State—he broke off half of the team's big plays. And with the VT defense needing to respect Dobbs possibly carrying it, the receivers had a little more room to breathe.
The explosive run rate for the defense is fine but nothing special, while the explosive pass rate was excellent.
The main measure here is success rate. Watch this short video if you need to brush up on it.
|Team||Run SR||Pass SR||Overall SR||Red Zone SR|
The UT run success rate is up to par after being a miserable 36% a week ago, but the low passing success rate is troubling. It doesn't help that Dobbs only completed 55.6% of his passes, but the pass attack overall continues to be uneven.
The fact that the Hokie offense was noticeably more efficient is also a cause for concern. If Virginia Tech wasn't constantly hurting itself, this game could've ended much differently.
|Team||1Q SR||2Q SR||3Q SR||4Q SR|
The momentum—if you believe in such things—swung right as the second quarter began as Virginia Tech fumbled for the first time and freshman Sheriron Jones apparently gave the offensive line a pep talk. UT also swapped out struggling center Coleman Thomas, who would return to his post later on and perform better. Tennessee's offense felt like it moved best in the second quarter, and the success rates bear that out.
Efficiency by Player
|Player||Comp. Pct.||Pass Eff.||Yards/Att||Sacks||Pass SR|
Dobbs had problems with the blitz, was again inaccurate too often, and registered a terrible yards per attempt rate as safe, short throws far outnumbered deeper passes. He threw for three touchdowns but only 91 yards and did have a pick. He had a couple other balls tipped that could've been interceptions if the ball had been thrown a little differently. Although the touchdowns were good throws, it's still a work in progress.
Evans caused problems for Tennessee's defense with both his arm and legs. Tennessee did a better job of collapsing the pocket on him as the game went along, though.
Malone remains the big play receiver, but the combination of having a lot of targets with fewer than 20 passes attempted means that it was difficult for any one guy to stand out among the crowd.
Phillips was the most consistent of the VT receivers, but he fell prey to the fumble bug in a way that ended up killing Virginia Tech's last real chance to make the game close. It became clear the extent to which the spread has infected the SEC that UT had significant trouble with the fullback Rogers, as he was a good option in the run and pass game.
The Volunteer offense works best when Dobbs and Hurd are working in tandem on the ground. They complement each other, as Hurd usually battles for tough yards up the middle and Dobbs stiff arms smaller players on the way to dashing for big gains. If they can figure out a way to make it a true three-man game with Kamara, it'll be really tough to stop.
Tennessee's defense had enormous trouble with McMillian in the first half, but the running back cooled off after his fumble early in the third. To what extent that was an adjustment by Bob Shoop or McMillian losing effectiveness while being more careful, I don't know. It was probably some of both.
|Team||Avg. Starting Position||Plays in Opp. Territory||Pct. Of Total|
|Virginia Tech||Own 24||19||31.1%|
For the first time in these reviews this year, this factor was a major part of the game. VT's butterfingers as well as a terrible punt gave the Vols excellent field position on average. UT had a pair of scoring drives that were shorter than ten yards in length, netting 10 points. It also had a missed field goal after a drive of zero yards, and in total only one scoring drive was longer than 58 yards. The garbage time TD came on a four-yard drive as well.
A trip inside the 40 is a drive where the team has a first down at the opponent's 40 or closer or where it scores from further out than that. A red zone trip is a drive with a first down at the opponent's 20 or closer.
|Team||Drives||Trips Inside 40||Points||Red Zone Trips||Points|
Tennessee did a good job here, getting a scoring opportunity on half of its drives and coming away with points on every opportunity except for that missed field goal.
I've purposefully not gone on much about the turnovers in order to save the discussion for this section.
Tennessee won the turnover battle 4-1 before garbage time, and VT snapped the ball over Evans's head after that and lost it for good measure. Three of the lost fumbles came all in a row at a critical time in the third quarter while the score was 31-14. Phillips fumbled just outside the Tennessee red zone, but the Hokies' defense held for a three-and-out. VT muffed the ensuing punt, giving the Vols a 43-yard field that they'd use to get a touchdown. And in case there was any doubt about the 38-17 lead with 6:45 to go, that's when the snap sailed over Evans and gave UT the ball at the 4-yard-line.
Tennessee didn't win this game solely on the strength of turnovers; they were less of a deciding factor as they were in Ole Miss's upset of Alabama a year ago when the Rebels won the turnover battle 5-0. However, they did make things much easier on the Vols.
The Hokies' self-destructive tendencies went beyond the turnovers. On VT's first full drive of the second quarter, a personal foul erased a first down and set up 3rd-and-14. After that third down play failed, punter Mitchell Ludwig kicked one directly into a Tennessee player. Cortez McDowell secured the ball and a 7-yard field for the Vol offense. On the first play of the next Tech drive, offsetting penalties erased a 19-yard run by McMillian. That drive ended in a punt too.
This game was closer than the score would have you believe on a down-by-down basis. VT's defense had more three-play stop drives (four) than Tennessee's defense did (three). The Hokies won success rate by a noticeable margin as well.
They say a team makes its biggest leap in progress from Week 1 to Week 2. Well, Tennessee did look a lot better this week than last. The Vols still don't look like a finished product, though. The line play is still underwhelming, as is the pass attack as a whole.
As the offense settles into more of a rhythm and the defense hits its stride under new coordinator Shoop, it's not hard to imagine UT being pretty great come November. The trick, though, is that the worst of its season will be done by then. After a tuneup against Ohio this week, Tennessee must play Florida, at Georgia, at Texas A&M, and Alabama in consecutive weeks. The team might play its best ball in the season's final month, but it may not matter anymore by then.
The good news for Tennessee is that the sometimes-lifeless outfit that played App State disappeared after the first quarter of this one, and Dobbs getting to run the ball really does make a positive impact for the offense. The bad news is that lifeless team did show up for the first frame at Bristol, and many of last year's flaws are this year's flaws too.
The Vols are 2-0, and they can achieve all of their goals, but it's going to take more than we saw over the weekend for the team to achieve them. Whether the progress from Week 1 means they'll get there or the issues hidden beneath the final score means they won't is up to you.