At an Alabama football banquet many years ago, it was pointed out that there is a reason there is a scoreboard in the stadium. The most important thing is points scored and points against. To that end, statistics have been kept over the years, and coaches agree that some of them are important to understanding wins and losses.
To be sure, Alabama Coach Nick Saban made a reasonable point this week when discussing what he called “a good work week so far.” He said, “I think, as I’ve said before, when you play in these types of games it’s more about the rivalry than it is the current record or the statistics you achieved, the points you scored, the points you’ve given up. I think the game means a lot to a lot of people. And one of the things you’ll probably get asked one day down the road is, ‘What was your record when you played Tennessee?’”
One good statistic for Alabama is that Crimson Tide teams under Nick Saban are 7-0 against the Vols.
Alabama (6-1 overall and 3-1 in SEC games) goes to Knoxville Saturday to take on Tennessee (3-4, 0-3) at 7:30 p.m. EDT (6:30 central time) in Neyland Stadium. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
The primary statistic is points for and against. Alabama ranks sixth in the SEC in scoring at 36.9 points per game, while Tennessee is 13th at 24.4 points per game. On defense, Bama is second in the league in scoring defense allowing 13.1 points per game, while UT allows 21.3, seventh in the conference.
On the ground, the Tide is fifth in rushing offense, 223.7 yards per game and the Vols last in the league, only 94 ypg. Defensively, Alabama is first, giving up just 63.4 ypg, and Tennessee is ninth, allowing 159.6.
It is not often that Bama will have a more potent passing attack than UT, but this is one of those years with the Tide second at 290.9 yards per game, the Vols seventh at 231.1 ypg. Tennessee has been better in pass defense, allowing 166.3, second in the SEC, with Alabama fifth, giving up 198.7.
In total offense, Alabama is third in the SEC at 514.6 yards per game and Tennessee is 12th with 325.1. Defensively, Bama is first, giving up 262.1 yards per game, Tennessee sixth, 325.9 yards allowed per game.
Alabama leads the league in punting and ranks ahead of the Vols in kickoff returns and punt returns, while UT is better than Bama in kickoff coverage.
In most weeks, Saban would say three statistics seem to have a major bearing on winning and losing.
One is third down efficiency. Alabama is second in third down conversions (53-100) while Tennessee is 11th (43-116 for 37.1 per cent). On defense, though, the Vols are first, allowing just 30-107 for 28 per cent, and Bama is fifth (29-96 for 30.2 per cent).
Turnover margin has not been a strength for Alabama this year. The Vols are tied for eighth with turnovers and takeaways even at 14-14, while the Tide is tied for 10th at minus two (nine takeaways, 11turnovers).
Red Zone effectiveness is a third important category according to coaches. Tennessee is sixth in scoring, 25-28 (16 TDs, 9-10 FGs) for 89.3 per cent and Alabama is ninth (28-33, 22 TDs, 6-7 FGs, 84.8 per cent). Defensively, Alabama is third (10-13, 5 TDs, 5-6 FGs, 76.9 per cent) and Tennessee 14th and last (16-16, 11 TDs, 5-5 FGs).
Although penalties may not figure largely into winning success, Saban doesn’t like them and is likely pleased with last week when the Tide was not flagged. Bama has moved up to third in the SEC as least penalized at 42.3 yards per game. Tennessee, though, seems to be the most disciplined team in the league, first in the category and being penalized only 27.1 yards per game.
Time of possession can be important in certain games and can be meaningless in others. Alabama leads the league, averaging 33:41 per game. Tennessee is 10th, averaging 29:22.
Bama is fourth in the league in sacks with 7-115 yards, while the Vols are tied for eighth with seven for 89 yards. No SEC team has more than eight and none has fewer than six.
Alabama is second in avoiding sacks, having given up only seven for 50 yards. Tennessee is last with a whopping 30 sacks allowed for 215 yards.
Individually, Bama’s J.K. Scott leads the league in punting at 47.3, Amari Cooper is best in the SEC in passes caught (62) and receiving yards (908). Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson is the league’s top tackler with 48 primary and 30 assists. The Tide’s top statistically is safety Landon Collins, tied for 11th with 22 primary, 27 assists.