It’s no secret that Georgia’s biggest problem on defense is third down conversions. Currently the Dawgs are 89th nationally and last in the SEC in opponent third down conversion rate. When you break that down, it’s even worse: toss out the Louisiana game, and the Georgia defense is allowing other teams to convert half of their third down plays into first downs.
The situational stats on pass defense are depressing. The defense has allowed an opponent passer rating on third down of 135.72. Teams are an incredible 15-21 passing on third down and seven yards or more to go, with no interceptions. The rushing defense on third down is better – in fact, other than a slight propensity to get burned on third and 4-6 yards to go, it’s held up pretty well. But overall, it’s pretty obvious what teams are successfully doing to move the chains on the Dawgs.
Still, I had hope for Saturday, because as bad as Georgia’s been stopping teams on third down, Tennessee’s been worse converting third downs. The Vols rank 117th nationally and 11th in the SEC (good old Vandy is last, natch) in third down conversion rate. Unfortunately, they may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel on that.
Nearly converting half of its third downs Saturday against LSU wasn’t enough to move Tennessee out from 117th in the nation in conversion percentage.
But it was a boost of confidence, coach Derek Dooley said, a push in the right direction caused by more productive first and second downs.
UT was 7-of-15 on third downs against LSU. Take away a third-and-27 in the second quarter, and the Vols averaged third-and-5 on the other 14 possession downs. Against UAB, when the Vols were just 2-for-15, their average teetered toward third-and-10.
On third-and-6 or longer this season, UT is 2-for-46.
“It’s unbelievable,” quarterback Matt Simms said. “We couldn’t do anything on third down against UAB but for some reason against the best defense in our conference we came up big and made plays.”
Though the distances were mostly shorter, the No. 1 reason behind the Vols’ success on third downs Saturday was nearly unanimous among Dooley and UT’s players.
The return of wide receiver Gerald Jones provided a spark to the offense and a trusted target for Simms in the biggest times of need. Three of Jones’ five catches came on third downs and all were long enough to move the chains…
Two keys for Georgia here. First, Tennessee’s best passing down by far is on first down. Simms’ percentage isn’t the greatest, but his yards per catch is much higher there than on any other down; he’s also thrown for five TDs on first down without a single interception. UT settles for smaller gains and hasn’t had a touchdown throw on second or third down all season. So Grantham needs to find a way to limit the damage on first down throws. The other key? The one thing Tennessee’s offense is worse at than converting third downs is protecting the quarterback. Justin Houston, come on down.