Tennessee coach Butch Jones chose to focus on the positive coming off a narrow victory against South Alabama, so we’ll do the same in this week’s installment of GVX By the Numbers.
The Vols (3-2, 0-1 SEC) will have to make strides in a number of areas if they’re to have any hope of knocking off No. 6 Georgia (3-1, 2-0) on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: CBS, 3:30 p.m.)
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t things to build on. Let’s take a look.
1. The Vols got better on first downs, which means they also got better on second downs.
Vols' yards per play
Last week we examined Tennessee’s first down offensive inefficiency and how that led to second-and-long situations in which the Vols were even worse.
Against Oregon and Florida, the Vols had 25 plays on second down and eight yards or longer. They managed only 41 yards, an average of 1.64 per play. When Nathan Peterman was in the game, the Vols had eight second-and-longs and netted -3 yards.
That changed against South Alabama.
The Vols averaged 8.1 yards per play on first downs. That forced UT into fewer second-and-long situations.
The Vols collected 67 yards on 12 plays from second-and-8 or longer, a much more respectable 5.6-yard average.
2. The Vols are getting better on third downs on defense.
Vols' defense on 3rd downs
We reviewed the Vols’ new 3-3-5 personnel look this week. The Vols are making progress in pressuring the quarterback, and are getting off the field more often on third downs.
3. The Tennessee defense has faced a variety of offensive looks this year, which could help prepare them Georgia’s strong and balanced offensive attack.
Vols' defensive sets
Or perhaps that’s wildly optimistic. In any case, the Vols have plenty of experience in mixing and matching different sets to adjust to an opponent’s personnel.
Now look back to last week...
1. Tight end Brendan Downs: He sustained some sort of an injury on the opening play of the game, but never left. He played 27 snaps lined up as an H-back, 25 as tight end, three snaps as a wideout and one snap in which he was essentially an offensive tackle because of the formation. The Vols averaged 7.1 yards per play when Downs was in the game.
2. Wide receiver Jason Croom: He played his “best game,” according to Butch Jones, catching three passes for 50 yards. That helped his boost his per-play average: The Vols averaged 8.9 yards when he was on the field against South Alabama. For the season as whole, Croom (6.2) has a healthy lead on rival Josh Smith (5.3) in yards per snap.
3. Safety Byron Moore: Jones suggested the Vols needs to use more reserves in the secondary. Moore was able to give starter LaDarrell McNeil a rest on Saturday with little dropoff. In Moore’s 16 snaps, South Alabama had only 56 yards.
Reserve linemen Klyer Kerbyson picked up three plays when starter Ja'Wuan James lost his hat. Tight end A.J. Branisel entered the game early and caught a touchdown pass. Rajion Neal became a workhorse after Marlin Lane went down with an injury.
Vols' offensive snap count, Oct. 1, 2013
Aside from the previously mentioned Moore, the reserves didn't get much work in the back end of the Vols' defense. JaRon Toney did win back his job from Devaun Swafford, although it appears that is subject to change from week to week.