Brandon Kennedy, Jarrett Guarantano

Making Progress: Third-and-Short

We saved the worst for last. In our series on where Tennessee can make the most progress in 2019, we’ve explored:

But if you’re looking for the thing Tennessee was absolutely, positively worst at last season, it’s third-and-short.

Last year Tennessee ran the ball 21 times on 3rd-&-1-to-3. They gained just 20 yards. Those 0.95 yards per carry on third-and-short weren’t just last in the country: Liberty finished 129th, and averaged 1.52 yards per carry. The Vols were the only team in America to average less than a yard-and-a-half per carry on third-and-short, and the Vols averaged less than a yard period.

(Stats, as always, via SportSource Analytics)

Those 21 carries led to 10 first downs, meaning the Vols converted just 47.6% of the time when running the ball on third-and-short. By comparison, here’s what Tennessee did in other situations last fall:

AttFirst DownsSuccess Rate
3rd 1-3 Run211047.62%
3rd 1-3 Pass10440.00%
3rd 4-6 Run9222.22%
3rd 4-6 Pass281553.57%
3rd 7-9 Run7342.86%
3rd 7-9 Pass281346.43%
3rd 10+ Pass341132.35%

Statistically speaking, it was better for the Vols to be in 3rd-&-4-6 and pass than 3rd-&-1-3 and run. And Tennessee had more or less the same chance of getting a first down on a third-and-short run and a third-and-long pass.

The truth is, if you’re in third-and-short, you’ve done fairly well on first and second down. But Tennessee struggled mightily to convert from there. Here’s what the rest of the SEC did when running it on third-and-short:

AttYardsAvg1st DownsSuccess Rate
Texas A&M321404.382165.63%
Mississippi State522815.403261.54%
Ole Miss34932.741750.00%
South Carolina21512.43838.10%

Obviously, it would be hard to get much worse in this department. The good news is, because you’re already in a short yardage situation, a little improvement goes a long way toward keeping a drive alive. There may also be a stubbornness component here: I’d imagine Jeremy Pruitt/Tyson Helton had to see it several times to believe the Vols really couldn’t move the pile on third-and-short. Pruitt and Chaney are likely to believe it sooner if it happens again this fall.

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