Tennessee vs Kentucky Preview: Good + New

Tennessee is living this incredible combination of things that would be considered good in any season, plus x number of years since an entire season was considered good. At some point, the conversation has to include how you can’t include it all. Too much fun since much too long, etc.

Each week, I find myself drawn to some hilarious new representation of the intersection of these two ideas. This time, it’s the fact that the Vols have now overtaken the service academies on the yards per attempt leaderboard:

Passing Yards Per Attempt

  1. Tennessee, 11.4, 226 attempts
  2. Air Force, 11.0, 60 attempts
  3. Army, 10.8, 63 attempts
  4. Ohio State, 10.5, 208 attempts

No one else in college football is in double digits.

This is the whole team number, of course, so Joe Milton and others are in there. For individual quarterbacks, Hendon Hooker still leads the country at 10.8 yards per attempt. C.J. Stroud is just behind at 10.6. And tied for third: Will Levis, at 10.0.

The biggest difference between those two quarterbacks continues to be interceptions: five for Levis, just the one for Hooker. But for the entire offense, the Vols are still the much more explosive team.

And not just compared to Kentucky.

30+ Yard Plays

  1. Tennessee, 32
  2. TCU, 27
  3. UCF, 26
  4. North Texas, 26 (8 games)
  5. Ohio State, 25
  6. Alabama, 24 (8 games)

40+ Yard Plays

  1. Tennessee, 21
  2. North Texas, 17 (8 games)
  3. Army & Memphis, 15

The Vols are averaging 4.6 30+ yard plays per game, and 3 40+ yard plays per game. Among power five schools that have played seven games, Ohio State and TCU are next on the 40+ yard play list at two per game.

If those numbers held for the Vols, here’s how they would compare to the national leaders in previous years:

Most 30+ Yard Plays Per Game, 2010-22

YearTeam30+ Per Game
2020Arkansas St4.0
2018Ole Miss4.3
2017Oklahoma St4.4
2016Western KY4.4

Most 40+ Yard Plays Per Game, 2010-22

YearTeam40+ Per Game
2021Kent State2.0
2010San Diego St2.1

In the last 12 years, no team has finished a season averaging 3+ 40 yard plays per game. The Vols are on that pace right now. And in the last 12 years, the only other team to average more than 4.6 30 yard plays per game is Josh Heupel’s 2019 UCF squad.

When we say this has a chance to be the most explosive offense of the playoff era, and beyond? It’s not just because we’re wearing orange.

You can see in the 40+ yard plays chart the spread of these concepts, from Baylor’s on-field rise following RGIII’s Heisman in 2011, to Oklahoma in the years following Heupel’s presence there. There’s a progression over the course of the last decade from “fun new Big 12 offense” to “best team in the Big 12 is doing it”. And now, to the Vols, who are so far doing it better than any of their predecessors.

Coming into the Alabama game, the Vols were averaging 2.8 40+ yard plays per game, and the Tide defense had only given up three 40+ yard plays the entire season. How will this work against these guys, we wondered?

Quite well, as it turns out. The Vols didn’t slow down for Bama. And that gives me reason to believe we won’t be doing something different with Kentucky, who is 14th nationally in 30+ yard plays allowed with just nine.

In fact, last year’s meeting between the Vols and Cats might be the current peak for Heupel’s offense at UT. It still is from a yards per play perspective against a ranked opponent. The Vols had 461 yards in 47 snaps last season in Lexington. They punted once.

And, of course, they almost lost. That game last year was not just informative as Heupel’s first ranked win here, but a picture of how two teams playing completely different styles can still go blow for blow. Kentucky never punted. Each team missed a field goal. The Vols fumbled inside the Kentucky 30, where they were looking to go up 21-7. And Levis fired a pick six to Alontae Taylor, giving Tennessee a crucial two-possession lead.

The Cats were also stopped on 4th-and-4, 4th-and-7, and finally 4th-and-10 to end the game.

It continues to be no joke to suggest that every stop the Tennessee defense gets creates an incredible opportunity for separation. History shows the Vols are going to swing for the fences, regardless of opponent, and did that better against this opponent last year than just about any other. Kentucky is capable of returning fire, just in a very different and frustrating fashion. In this week’s expected win total machine, fans give the Vols a 73.2% chance of victory and project 10.71 regular season wins.

That’s plenty of words to say this: Get stops. Hit bombs. The Vols are doing the first part better than they were last year. And they’re doing the second part better than any offense of the playoff era.

Don’t stop now.

Go Vols.

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1 year ago

WOW… nice stats. Scares me during this “fright season” that we can continue to put up such fantastic numbers and continue to win. Let’s turn out the light on the “kitty cats”… Go Vols!