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NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE: Ducking the Statistics


"Men lie, women lie, numbers don't." 
--Jay Z


"There are three kinds of lies: Lies. Damn lies. And statistics."
--Mark Twain


By now, we should know Tennessee's true odds heading into the challenges of its  2013 schedule. But, against the odds, we don't.

For two weeks, I have written that we would, after the Austin-Peay or Western Kentucky games, know the apparent status of the Tennessee football team, in regard to its capabilities, composure, and overall ability to descend into one of the hardest schedules in all of collegiate sports.

Well, I was wrong.

Austin-Peay taught us that Tennessee's 2013 team is very disciplined, accruing exactly zero penalties and giving up no points, even in a second half that featured the Vols clearing the bench and getting (kind-of) real game experience for the full depth chart. And that's great, but you don't learn or grow from a game like Austin-Peay. Feels good but means very little.

Western Kentucky should've been different, but somehow taught us LESS. In a game that many considered an even match-up, Tennessee's defense embarrassed Western Kentucky
so badly in the first quarter, with two interceptions returned for touchdowns and five turnovers in the first-quarter alone, that Tennessee's offense was left with almost nothing to do but run
red zone drills in the first half. When the offense was on the field, QB Justin Worley and
his group of young/untested wide receivers still seemed to be searching for a rhythm and identity. These are things that you discover against teams that challenge you.

So, after two games that could and should have been telling, Tennessee's team remains just as mysterious and untested as ever. The team has shown glimpses of brilliance on defense, but has also looked completely lost and confused. The offense has looked mediocre, but has outscored Tennessee's first two opponents 97-20. There is a wealth of unexpected potential that seems capable of being shaped and cultivated on both sides of the ball.

The time for cultivating and shaping has, unfortunately, come and gone.

Tennessee's fearsome schedule now first shows its teeth with a trip to #2 Oregon.

"They are the most complete team I've seen in a long time" said Coach Butch Jones on Monday.

It's easy to get lost in Oregon's famous speed and Tennessee's youth and inexperience, so let's just skip the colorful language and let the statistics talk. That's all we really know, after all.

On offense: Oregon and Tennessee each sit comfortably within the top-25 teams in the nation in rushing offense and points per game. They also each fall below the top-50 in passing. Oregon sits, only behind Baylor, as the Nation's second-most productive offense.

On defense: Tennessee, on a purely statistical level, has no reason to enter Saturday's game with a lack of confidence. By the numbers, Tennessee's defenders lead the nation in interceptions and turnovers gained, and sit within the top-10 in regards to Passing-efficiency defense and Red-zone defense. Oregon, meanwhile, is among the nations top QB-sacking defenses. Neither team ranks within the top-25 in total defense, but the statistical advantage belongs to Tennessee.

The Vols are the #2 team in the nation regarding fewest penalties. The Ducks fall somewhere outside the top-50. This isn't a big deal, except that you certainly can't go about beating teams like Oregon if you're busy beating yourself.

Of their combined four opponents, Tennessee and Oregon have each decimated a tiny FCS school and a statistically weak FBS team coming off of similarly hyped first-week victories. The path to this game is actually quite similar in quality of opponent. Both teams have faced bad offenses and bad defenses.  

The point of showing these stats is not to imply a Tennessee victory, in any way. The Vols will be heavily out-gunned in regard to depth and substantially out-gunned in speed. If you're a gambler, Las Vegas has favored Oregon by four touchdowns and this will be the first away game for many of Tennessee's young players. That's just reality to spice up your perspective heading into kickoff on Saturday.

There are plenty of numerical reasons to simultaneously expect Tennessee to compete and to be badly beaten by Oregon in Eugene.

Odds are, no matter which numbers are telling the truth, we'll finally know more about Tennessee afterwards.

 

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