Numbers Say Vols Have To Fix The Passing Game… Or Else

SS FOOTBALL VIEWS GRAPHICThere have been heavy run teams that have won in the Southeastern Conference.  That’s the good news for Vol fans.

But Tennessee should currently be categorized as a heavy run team not only because of ground success but because its passing game — or “throw game,” as Butch Jones calls it — is abysmal.  And that’s the bad news.

When you look back over the SEC since its expansion to 14 teams in 2012, you find that heavy run teams that can’t keep defenses honest with at least some threat of a passing game do not win often.

Below you’ll find that I’ve looked at all 42 SEC offenses from 2012 through 2014.  I looked only at those teams’ passing numbers versus FBS foes.  While I looked only at their SEC win/loss records, I included in the passing numbers all non-conference games in order to get a bigger sample of data and a better picture of each squad’s true ability to throw the football.

Now, college football is not the NFL where each team has a somewhat similar talent level.  Even so, the numbers below show some clear correlations between passer rating, yards-per-pass-attempt numbers and a squads’ final win/loss records inside the SEC.

Not surprisingly, Tennessee’s passing numbers aren’t good one-third of the way through the season.  We all have eyes.  But the overall numbers suggest that if the Vols can’t rev up their aerial attack, there will likely be zero steps forward for Tennessee record-wise in 2015.

First, let’s look at passer rating.  Below are the 16 SEC squads that had a passer rating over 140.00.

TEAMSEASONPASSER RATINGSEC RECORD
Alabama2012173.087-1
Georgia2012169.337-1
Texas A&M2013168.624-4
Alabama2013162.267-1
LSU2013161.845-3
Auburn2014158.274-4
Alabama2014156.177-1
S. Carolina2012155.566-2
S. Carolina2013155.396-2
Georgia2013153.845-3
Miss. State2014150.656-2
Georgia2014150.436-2
Texas A&M2012149.296-2
Auburn2013145.027-1
Texas A&M2014144.803-5
Missouri2013141.897-1

As you can see, a good passer rating typically means a good record inside the SEC.  Those squads in the chart above that did not win big — Auburn in 2014 and Texas A&M in 2013 and 2014 — all had bottom of the barrel defenses.

The teams above were a combined 93-35 in SEC play.  That’s a combined winning percentage of 72.6%.  Of those 16 teams, only squad — Texas A&M last year — had a losing conference mark.  Pretty telling.

Let’s continue.  Below are the 16 SEC teams whose passer ratings were below 140.00 but above 120.00

TEAMSEASONPASSER RATINGSEC RECORD
Tennessee2012139.421-7
S. Carolina2014138.543-5
Ole Miss2013138.023-5
Vanderbilt2012137.415-3
Miss. State2012136.934-4
Ole Miss2014136.475-3
Ole Miss2012136.073-5
Vanderbilt2013134.224-4
Florida2012131.107-1
Arkansas2012130.192-6
Miss. State2013128.113-5
Florida2013125.453-5
Kentucky2013125.380-8
LSU2012124.56-2
Arkansas2014123.622-6
Tennessee2014123.493-5

Much more of a mixed bag.  The combined SEC record of this bunch was just 54-74 (42.1%).  Only four of the 16 squads listed above managed winning SEC marks.  The lower the passer rating, the harder to roll up victories inside the Southeastern Conference.

Let’s finish up this category with the ten remaining SEC teams.  All finished with passer rating figures below 120.00.

TEAMSEASONPASSER RATINGSEC RECORD
LSU2014119.704-4
Missouri2014117.287-1
Auburn2012114.470-8
Kentucky2014114.112-6
Missouri2012110.432-6
Florida2014107.944-4
Kentucky2012107.550-8
Arkansas2013106.010-8
Tennessee2013101.182-6
Vanderbilt201499.770-8

Yikes.  These teams combined for a 21-59 SEC record (26.2%).  Only last year’s Missouri team managed a winning record from this bunch.

 

In terms of passer rating, the breakdown is pretty clear:

At or Above 140.00 = 93-35 (72.6%) and only 1 of 16 teams had a losing record

Below 140.00/At or Above 120.00 = 54-74 (42.1%) and only 4 of 16 teams had winning records

Below 120.00 = 21-59 (26.2%) and only 1 of 10 had a winning record

Tennessee’s 2015 passer rating — through three FBS contests — stands at just 127.10, the middle category.  That doesn’t bode well for the Vols’ attempts to improve on last year’s 3-5 SEC mark.

 

Now let’s look at yards-per-pass-attempt.  Again, we’ll examine only SEC teams statistics versus FBS foes from 2012 through 2014.

Below are the numbers for the 20 squads who averaged 7.7 yards per pass attempt or more.

TEAMSEASONYARDS/ATTEMPTSEC RECORD
Georgia20129.97-1
LSU20139.75-3
Texas A&M20139.34-4
Alabama20129.27-1
Auburn20149.04-4
Alabama20138.87-1
Alabama20148.77-1
Georgia20138.75-3
S. Carolina20128.66-2
S. Carolina20138.56-2
Miss. State20148.56-2
Auburn20138.47-1
Texas A&M20128.26-2
Ole Miss20148.05-3
Missouri20137.87-1
Vanderbilt20127.85-3
Georgia20147.76-2
S. Carolina20147.73-5
Ole Miss20127.73-5
Vanderbilt20137.74-4

The 20 SEC teams whose yards-per-pass-attempt number topped 7.7 went a combined 110-50 in conference play (68.7%).  More remarkably, only two squads on that list finished below .500 inside the SEC — South Carolina in 2014 and Ole Miss in 2012 — and they both landed right at the 7.7 cut-off point.

So what about those teams whose YPA figures were at 7.6 or below?  See for yourself.

TEAMSEASONYARDS/ATTEMPTSEC RECORD
Texas A&M20147.63-5
Tennessee20127.61-7
Arkansas20127.62-6
Ole Miss20137.53-5
Miss. State20127.44-4
Miss. State20137.33-5
LSU20127.26-2
LSU20147.24-4
Auburn20127.10-8
Kentucky20136.80-8
Florida20136.73-5
Florida20126.67-1
Arkansas20146.52-6
Tennessee20146.43-5
Missouri20146.37-1
Kentucky20146.32-6
Missouri20126.22-6
Florida20146.14-4
Vanderbilt20145.90-8
Arkansas20135.80-8
Tennessee20135.72-6
Kentucky20125.40-8

Not surprisingly, teams with lower yards-per-pass-attempt numbers also won a lot fewer games.  Those squads were just 58-118 in SEC play (32.9%).  Only three of the 22 teams with a YPA of 7.6 or lower — Florida in 2012, LSU in 2012 and Missouri in 2014 — finished with winning records in the league.

 

This breakdown isn’t perfect, but it certainly gives you an idea of what teams need to do in terms of yards-per-pass-attempt to win in the post-expansion SEC:

At or above 7.7 YPA = 110-50 (68.7%) and only 2 of 20 teams had losing records

At or below 7.6 YPA = 58-118 (32.9%) and only 3 of 22 teams had winning records

Through three contests versus FBS foes Tennessee’s yards-per-pass-attempt figure is just 6.8.  Not only is that below the 7.6 mark, it’s WELL below.

 

So if you found yourself Saturday night wondering if the Vols can win games with such heavy reliance on the run game and less and less success through the air, the answer is no, probably not.  SEC records and passing numbers from 2012 through 2014 suggest Tennessee will be in big trouble if the coaches, quarterback, receivers and offensive line don’t all get on the same page at some point.  And with five SEC games on the docket between now and November 7th… the Volunteers had better get on that same page very soon.

— John Pennington

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2 Responses to “Numbers Say Vols Have To Fix The Passing Game… Or Else”

October 06, 2015 at 3:30 am, Vols’ Chances Of Winning Drop With Sack Total | Sports Source said:

[…] at Tennessee’s passing game.  SEC stats from 2012 through 2014 (post-expansion) showed that the Volunteers are in for a long year if they can’t up their yards-per-pass-attempt average. […]

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