Aug 31, 2013; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley (14) gets ready for the snap against the Austin Peay Governors at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Vols vs Hilltoppers: By the Numbers

Last Saturday, the Butch Jones era at Tennessee got underway with a 45-0 win over Austin Peay in Neyland Stadium. This Saturday, the Vols host the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky, who are fresh off a 35-26 victory over Kentucky, in Nashville. No one should argue that Western Kentucky’s victory over Kentucky isn’t a better win than the Vols win over Austin Peay, but what do the numbers tell us about how these two teams stack up?

I have developed a matrix that determines how the numbers would look against elite teams. Whereas Alabama would garner a 1.0 multiplier, Austin Peay resides at a .40 multiplier.

Tennessee’s win on Saturday came with basically only one half of offensive production. 213 yards rushing and 104 yards passing for a total of 317 yards came in the first two quarters of play for the first team offense. Using the .40 multiplier for Austin Peay, the Vols first team offense would have comparatively gained 85 yards on the ground and 42 yards passing against Alabama for a total of 127 yards (one half). This is assuming play calling is the same.

On the flip side, Western Kentucky ran for 216 yards and threw for 271 yards against Kentucky. Kentucky’s multiplier is .6 according to my statistical matrix. Using this data, Western Kentucky would have ran for 130 yards and thrown for 163 yards for a total of 292 yards against Alabama. Again, this is assuming the play calling is the same.

Defensively the Vols should have an advantage. Going against a Western Kentucky team that doesn’t necessarily spread the field should allow the Volunteer defense to pressure Hilltopper QB Brandon Doughty more than they were able to pressure the Austin Peay QB’s. UT’s defensive backfield will need to be more cognizant of Western Kentucky’s WR’s on the outside. WKU’s WRs have plenty of speed and could make the Vols pay if they find space with the ball.

Western Kentucky’s defense struggled in the second half against Kentucky’s run game. After jumping out to a sizeable lead against the Wildcats, WKU’s rush defense allowed several big plays and Kentucky snuck back into the game late. Tennessee’s offense will look to exhaust the Hilltoppers with their uptempo style and will try to wear down the Western Kentucky defensive front with their overwhelming offensive line.

The return game for the Vols for the next 4-6 weeks will look a little different with return man Devrin Young out with a broken hand. Whoever steps in will need to make sure they secure the ball first and foremost. While big plays on special teams are always welcome, negative plays can destroy a team’s chances.

It’s a 12:21 kickoff this Saturday, so both teams will need to be ready for an early start. The key to the game for the Vols is limiting mistakes.  Turnovers and mis-assignments are always a hindrance, especially in a game that many are calling for an upset. The key for Western Kentucky is conditioning. The Hilltoppers will need to be able to keep up with the Vols for four quarters.  If they can, they could have a chance to pull of the upset. If they can’t, this could get out of hand in the third and fourth quarters.

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