Tennessee Football 2022 Stat Review: Wide Receivers
One of the tropes I often heard repeated about Tennessee's offense in 2022 was that the Vols are known for their big, flashy pass plays; "but actually Tennessee runs more than they throw." Especially leading up to the Georgia game--it was like football pundits found the secret chord that David played, and they'd please the football gods by uttering the phrase: Tennessee runs more than they throw.
And that's true when looking at the raw numbers--overall in 2022 UT ran the ball 55.3% of the time and passed 44.7%. But if you filter out "garbage time" the numbers get a lot closer to 50/50. We're going to use collegefootballdata.com's definition of garbage time:
Garbage Time occurs when one of the following scenarios is met:
- Scoring margin over 38 points in the 2nd quarter
- Scoring margin over 28 points in the 3rd quarter
- Scoring margin over 22 points in the 4th quarter
Note that, although not a common occurrence, it is possible for a game that was in garbage time to come out [of] garbage time during extreme comeback scenarios.
Where I can, I'm using numbers with garbage time filtered out. And since I'd like to have a phrase to use other than "non-garbage time", it's going to be "treasure time", since the opposite of garbage is treasure, and because you can't spell treasure without UT.
In treasure time, Tennessee actually throws slightly more (50.5%) than it runs (49.5%).
I think the distinction is important because the idea that Tennessee runs more than they throw doesn't really capture the essence of what Josh Heupel's offense is doing. Tennessee pressures defenses by making them cover the whole field--sideline to sideline and as deep as possible. All of that stretching then creates space for the running game, and just like all offenses, the Vols will choose to run if the game is out of danger. But as long as the game is still in question, UT relies heavily on its WRs to pressure defenses. That means Tennessee needs the WR position to pay off in order for the offense to run effectively.
And pay off it did in 2022. Obviously, Biletnikoff Award-winner Jalin Hyatt was the centerpiece of the offense, shown by the amount of his usage in the offense: 20% of all pass plays targeted Hyatt and nearly 10% of all offensive snaps--that's treasure time, garbage time, and even the Orange Bowl, which Hyatt sat out.
That's among all Vol WRs. And as mentioned above, when drafting this post I wanted to focus on "treasure time" stats, but my method for compiling those didn't work out (this is snafu #1). But you can imagine that usage goes up when the game is close and UT's play calling slightly favors the passing game. Especially among the top five Vols receivers in 2022:
And if you're curious about the more traditional stats of those same receivers:
Again, this is why I love looking at the stats and not just using the eye test. I was of the opinion that Bru McCoy was underused in 2022. But statistically, Bru was a large part of Tennessee's 2022 offense, although he had just a little more than 50% of Hyatt’s yards despite having 77% as many catches. BTW, we’ll get into 2023 previews soon, but I think Bru can have a monster year this season.
When compared to the rest of the SEC, McCoy hovered around the top 10 and saw as much usage in Tennessee's offense as Georgia's leading WR, Ladd McConkey, saw in theirs:
Charts like this show some interesting trends, too. The bottom 1/3 or so of the SEC chart is full of guys with high PPA but lower usage than other WRs on their own team. Likely that means those players should either be seeing more targets, or they fill a specific role on their team.
One last chart, a look at how Tennessee's passing game stacked up against the rest of the SEC:
Excuse the formatting—the numbers are comically large but I couldn’t limit the decimal places in R Studio (this was snafu #2).
- Auburn? Woof Eagle.
- Is A&M’s blue-chip ratio actually higher than their cumulative passing PPA?
- Offenses led by Anthony Richardson, Will Levis, and Spencer Rattler sat solidly in the middle-to-bottom of the SEC.
The important thing to notice for Vol fans is that UT’s average PPA was on par with the national champion’s, and the only reason UGA’s total PPA surpassed Tennessee’s is because they played two more games than the Vols did. Obviously nobody is doubting UT's offensive prowess in 2022, but this is just one more data point to show how good they were.