In Search of Home Runs

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In the third quarter against Alabama, Jarrett Guarantano hit Jalin Hyatt for 48 yards down the sideline. It should’ve been more, but he was ruled out of bounds.

That’s the only play of 40+ yards the Vols have all year.

Mike Leach and Mississippi State have two. Kentucky and Vanderbilt have three. It goes all the way up to Alabama and Ole Miss, who have ten each.

Not only do the Vols struggle to hit home runs, they struggle to get on base. Here’s a look at big plays in SEC games from the Tennessee offense the last five years, in 10 yard increments broken down per game:

10+Per Game20+Per Game30+Per Game40+50+
20206310.5213.591.510
20199912.4405182.396
20188410.5364.5212.6113
20178510.6283.5111.462
201614117.6556.9243132

Tennessee’s offense wasn’t lights out last season, but they could hit home runs between Jennings, Callaway, and some longer runs from Ty Chandler and Eric Gray that just haven’t been there so far this season. This time around, the Vols struggle with just 10+ yard plays, essentially matching the per game average of the woeful 2017 offense, and the 2018 group that ran fewer plays than any team in college football.

Even with Jim Chaney, perhaps a defense-first head coach like Jeremy Pruitt is never going to live by the big play. But SEC football has changed so fast around him, it feels like Tennessee is getting left behind. Before we even talk about what a good job by the defense would be against a team like Texas A&M or Auburn, we need some baseline understanding of how many points the offense would need to score just to have a chance.

Last year in conference play, Tennessee averaged 20 points per game. Again, not great, but not terrible considering 37.5% of our SEC games are Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. At 20 points per game, the Vols finished ninth in scoring in league play. Ole Miss came in fifth at 26 points per game.

This year, with everything being conference play, Tennessee is holding that average at 20.7 points per game, obviously boosted by the first two weeks of the season. In 2020, that’s only good for 12th in the SEC. Now the top half of the league averages at least 28 points per game, with what feels like a break between Auburn at #7 (28.3) and South Carolina at #8 (24.8). The non-Vanderbilt teams left on our schedule are averaging 28.3, 33.3 and 42.4 points per game, all vs SEC defenses.

One more note here: in offensive SP+ rating, the Vols are 97th nationally at 24.2 (points per game against the average defense). If you look at every Tennessee offense in SP+ since 2005, those 24.2 projected points per game in 2020 rank the same as the Clawfense’s 19.3 projected points per game in 2008:

YearOffensive SP+Rank
202024.297
201927.873
201833.438
201725.883
201639.915
201535.731
20143153
201329.263
201242.69
20112761
201030.544
200932.929
200819.397
200738.417
200635.912
200523.775

Pruitt and his staff may not want to die via turnovers, whether interceptions downfield or the quarterback getting hit more often waiting for guys to get open. But if the Vols can’t land more explosive plays, I’m not sure there’s any other way to live.

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