Addicted to the Run

The subject of the season is the Vols run game (or lack thereof). I’m here to talk about it again.

The 'Come to Jesus' moment in the 2011 Vols schedule has arrived.

I have looked at the stats for the Vols first four games to get a sense of our running game in terms of its effectiveness in specific situations (situational stats).

I also wanted a sense of how much Tennessee has run the ball versus throwing it.

What I found surprised me.

The subject has value because of what Coach Dooley had to say after the game on Saturday regarding how his football team stands after the first third of the season. 

“I still don’t know where we are. We’ve had three teams come in here and we took care of them the way we need to. We went down to The Swamp and gutted it out for four quarters but didn’t play our best. We’ll see how we do next week. We have so many young guys it’s hard to make judgments. They look different every week.”

At the present level of performance, I remain committed to a 6-6 finish for the Vols in 2011. Based on what I’ve witnessed, we will be completely outclassed by Alabama (road) and LSU (home), and will fall significantly short in terms of overall quality and depth against Georgia (home), South Carolina (home), and Arkansas (road). A 6-6 record is accomplished by defeating MTSU, Vandy, and Kentucky, with losses piling up against the other five schools mentioned.


It seems reasonable that our number one goal should be to maximize our chance to win the most number of games. Can we raise our level of performance by attempting to improve our rushing game over the next four weeks by using it as much as we have to date against the upcoming top-quality opposition?

No. I’m not fooled by the ‘improvement’ in the run game against Buffalo last Saturday.

We have a better chance at maximizing our chance to win the most number of games in 2011 by passing more.

But, how often do we run and pass now? Here are some situational stats that are readily available (from, a very fine resource) for Tennessee’s ground attack in the first four games.

1st Down Totals: 58% running plays (78 runs / 56 passes). On runs, 3.28 yds/run; 11 first downs.
2nd Down Totals: 48% running plays (45 runs / 49 passes). On runs, 2.40 yds/run; 6 first downs.
3rd Down Totals: 34% running plays (20 runs / 38 passes). On runs, 2.35 yds/run; 14 first downs.
3rd and 1 to 3 yds to go: 74% running plays (17 runs / 6 passes). On runs, 3.00 yds/run; 14 first downs.
3rd and 4 to 6 yds to go: No running plays (0 runs / 10 passes).
3rd and 7 to 9 yds to go: No running plays (one QB sack and 10 passes).
3rd and 10 or more yds to go: 14% running plays (2 runs / 12 passes). On runs, 3.00 yds/run; 0 first downs.

We run the ball most on first down, and on third and short. We are pretty successful on third and short: 14 first downs on 17 runs. The relative failure of the rest of the run game has been well chronicled.

The splits for the Vol running and passing games are as follows.

Whole Game Totals: 50% running plays (146 runs / 145 passes)
First half: 49% running plays (74 runs / 78 passes)
Second half: 52% running plays (72 runs / 67 passes)

So, why don’t we pass more? With our ground game, why would we want to continue to run the ball on first down nearly 60% of the time and gain only about 3 yards per carry?

Tennessee already runs the ball less than all of the SEC’s best teams except one.

LSU: 65 % running plays (218 / 119) [5 games]
Florida: 63% running plays (203 / 120) [5 games]
Auburn: 62% running plays (204 / 126) [5 games]
Georgia: 60% running plays (221 runs / 145 passes) [5 games]
South Carolina: 60% running plays (194 / 131) [5 games]
Alabama: 57% running plays (191 / 142) [5 games]
Arkansas: 45% running plays (164 runs / 201 passes) [5 games]

The first six listed teams run the ball because they can do that well. Arkansas passes more because they know better than to rely on the run.

So, with our ground game, why don’t we run the ball at least as much as Arkansas (55% passes)? Why not even more than that? Why not 60% or even 65%?

I doubt that that high of a passing frequency is in Dooley’s DNA.

But it may give us a better chance of bettering a 6-6 end-of-season mark instead of continually pounding our head against the back of our offensive line.

And, using the run game less may actually allow it to be more effective by way of the element of surprise.

Maximize the use of your strengths.

I’m willing to see us throw the ball 65% of the time against Georgia. Are you?


4 responses to “Addicted to the Run”

  1. scoop says :

    Green Bay Packers throw the ball around a lot and win, so why can’t the Vols do the same!

  2. tk says :


  3. rockytop78 says :

    I wonder what the statistics were for 1985, when Tennessee was SEC Champ and waxed Miami in the Sugar Bowl? I mention this because it is my impression that, after Tony Robinson went down in the Alabama game and Darryl Dickey took over as quarterback, we seemed to have more of a ball-control passing offense — not necessarily a dink-and-dump short-yardage passing attack, but a very high percentage completion passing scheme. Perhaps that glorious season could serve as a model for the Vols this year (of course, Bray has a lot more talent than Darryl Dickey did).

    I have no problems with your conclusion about passing the ball more; certainly, after watching Alabama’s beatdown of Florida, I don’t think we are going to be running the ball on the Crimson Tide very effectively in a few weeks. And maybe not on LSU either.

    I am hopeful of better than 6-6 this season; but if we can manage to win 2 out of 3 against Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas, it will be on the strength of our passing game. As the poster above wrote, let’s throw the damn ball — what have we got to lose?

    • norcalvol says :

      Well, according to a couple of historical stats sites, in 1985 the Vols threw 39% from scrimmage: 288 passing plays and 457 rushing plays. But, unfortunately, the stats don’t allow for a game-to-game assessment, so I can’t readily tell if we got significantly more pass happy when Dickey took over.
      Hopefully I’ll be able to find a site with game by game stats instead of just seasonal stats.

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