Published October 13, 2011 - 3:25pm
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In sports, numbers don’t always tell the whole story, but more often than not they at least give you an idea of some of the problems that a given team is facing. Five games into the season, Tennessee’s struggles have been well documented as both the running and kicking games have been problematic to say the least, but that’s not where the Vol’s pain ends. Here’s a look at some of the numbers that show just how far Derek Dooley’s Vols (3-2, 0-2 SEC) must climb to regain SEC relevance on Rocky Top.
One - The Vols have one more interception than a dead man and are tied for last in the NCAA with a few other programs that are also suffering from rigor mortis in the secondary. It seems like ages since Art Evans turned in the pick-six against Montana in Tennessee’s opening game of the season. Obviously the unit was dealt a blow when All-SEC safety Janzen Jackson was dismissed in late summer but just one interception in five games is somewhat amazing, especially when you consider that no other SEC team has less than four and in-state little brother Vanderbilt leads the conference with 14.
Two - Tennessee is 0 and two in the early portion of their SEC schedule following losses to Florida and Georgia. Injuries to star players Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray will not help as the Vols’ next four SEC opponents are LSU, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas.
Three- Tennessee won a total of three SEC games last season with wins over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Subtract Ole Miss from the 2011 schedule, insert Arkansas, and suddenly the road to three SEC wins looks much tougher. If the Vols can make it 27 straight over Kentucky and stop James Franklin’s improving Vandy squad, they will still need to pull off an upset among the four remaining conference opponents. Those four other opponents are all ranked in the AP Top 25 with LSU (1), Alabama (2), South Carolina (15) and Arkansas (10). It will take that signature win that Dooley is still seeking to at least equal last year’s three SEC victories.
Four - The Vols have lost four fumbles and also recovered four on the season but amazingly they have coughed up the ball 18 times in just five games. In the SEC, only South Carolina, with 19 fumbles in six games, has put the pigskin on the turf more than Tennessee.
Five - The Vols have just five take aways in five games this season and currently rank 107th out of 120 FBS programs. The five turnovers that Tennessee has pulled in ranks last in the SEC.
Six - The Vols, who have historically made a good living pounding the rock, have just six rushing touchdowns in 2011. Only Kentucky, with three, has fewer rushing scores than Tennessee.
Seven - The Vols have the seventh worst net-rushing yards-per-game average among all FBS teams in the country, leaving just six programs who average less. The Vols check in at number 114 nationally and dead last in the conference with just 84.8 yards per-game and rank ahead of only Rutgers, Kent State, Arizona, Miami (OH), Idaho and East Carolina. Tennessee was at the bottom of the conference in rushing last season but averaged 116 yards per contest. Tauren Poole who rushed for over 1000 yards in 2010 has been hampered by nagging injuries and is now nursing a strained hamstring. If the running game continues to decline, this year’s team runs the risk of joining the 1958 and 1964 teams as the only Tennessee teams to not rush for at least 1000 yards as a team. Incidentally, they only played a 10 game schedule back in the day so this would set a standard in futility.
Eight - How do you replace number 8 is the number one question facing the Vols. Number 8 as in star-quarterback Tyler Bray. When Bray broke his thumb on his right hand Saturday night against Georgia, it seemed as if you could hear the air being let out of the Big Orange balloon all across the state of Tennessee. Bray has been brilliant, leading the conference in passing yards-per-game (316), touchdown passes (14), pass efficiency (165.2), completion percentage (65.9) and total offense (304). So how do you replace number 8? You don’t. Matt Simms deserves a ton of credit for showing maturity and sticking with the program after taking a beating last season. I’m in Simms’ corner and hope he can turn this opportunity into a Hollywood script, but Tyler Bray is just one of those special players that is next to impossible to do without.
Nine - Tennessee is the SEC’s number nine ranked team in field goal percentage at 66.7 percent. Michael Palardy has had his struggles as the Vol’s place-kicker connecting on 6-of-9 attempts and had a PAT blocked against Georgia.
Ten - What many thought would be a strength for the Tennessee defense, the secondary unit has not lived up to expectations and currently ranks tenth in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 204 yards-per-game. Justin Wilcox’s defensive backfield is allowing seven yards-per-attempt (T-10th in SEC) and ranks only above Auburn at 7.2 yards-per-attempt.