The Five Factors: Explaining Tennessee’s 53-28 win over Vanderbilt

Advanced college football statisticians believe there are five factors that most accurately determine what teams win games: explosiveness, efficiency, field position, finishing drives, and turnover margin. They have come up with statistical formulas to measure those factors beyond what can be found in a typical box score. This season, we will be following Tennessee’s progress game-by-game using these formulas. The Vols’ figures for Saturday’s 53-28 win over Vanderbilt follow.
Formula Explanation: Average yards per play
UT Offense: 6.8 yards per play
UT Defense: Allowed 5.9 yards per play
UT Offense: 5.6 yards per play
UT Defense: Allowed 5.3 yards per play
Commentary: The only games in which Tennessee averaged more yards per play this season were its wins over Bowling Green and Kentucky, and the only game in which the Vols totaled more yards was the Bowling Green game. That’s particularly impressive, considering Vanderbilt had a Top 25 defense coming into the game. The Vols rushed for 331 yards, a gaudy average of 6.4 yards per rush, the highest of any game this season. Vanderbilt had 276 yards in the first half, but just 15 in the third quarter.
Formula Explanation: Success rate gives an offense a point every time it gains 50 percent of the necessary yards on first down, 70 percent of the necessary yards on second down and 100 percent of the necessary yards on third or fourth down. Total points divided by the total number of plays is the success rate.
UT Offense: 48.1 percent success rate (37-for-77)
UT Defense: Allowed 42.8 percent success rate (30-for-70)
UT Offense: 43.4 percent success rate (393-for-905)
UT Defense: Allowed 38.7 percent success rate (323-for-834)
Commentary: Vanderbilt’s offense was actually more efficient than Tennessee’s in the first half. Both teams ran 36 offensive plays. Vanderbilt was successful on 19 while Tennessee had 16 successful plays. In the third quarter, when the game was decided, however, the Vols had 14 successful plays to Vanderbilt’s one. Ten of Vanderbilt’s 30 successful plays came in the fourth quarter against Tennessee’s second-team defense.
Formula Explanation: The average spot on the field where each team started its offensive drives.
UT Offense: Own 35.8 yard line
Vanderbilt: Own 21.8 yard line
UT Offense: Own 34.4 yard line
UT Opponents: Own 26.5 yard line
Commentary: Tennessee has had no greater statistical advantage this season than in field position, and that was the case again in the season finale. Junior Cameron Sutton’s 85-yard punt return touchdown was the Vols’ sixth special teams touchdown this season. Vanderbilt never started a drive beyond its own 34, and Tennessee started six drives beyond its own 35.
Formula Explanation: Points per trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line.
UT Offense: 4.9 points per trip (44 points on nine trips)
UT Defense: Allowed 5.6 points per trip (28 points on five trips)
UT Offense: 4.13 points per trip (347 points on 84 trips)
UT Defense: Allowed 4.01 points per trip (205 points on 51 trips)
Commentary: Vanderbilt scored touchdowns on four if its five trips inside the Tennessee 40, but Vols safety Todd Kelly Jr.’s interception at the end of the half stopped a critical red zone drive, preserving the Vols’ 27-14 lead head into the half. Tennessee failed to score on a fourth-and-goal and settled for three field goals, but it reached the red zone eight times and scored on seven of those trips.
Formula: Turnover Margin is what it usually is. Projected turnover margin tries to measure and factor out luck by presuming one recovered fumble for every two caused fumbles and an interception for every four pass breakup
Turnover Margin: UT +1
Projected Turnover Margin: UT +0.5
Turnover Margin: UT +3
Projected Turnover Margin: UT +3.25
Commentary: Kelly’s interception was the only turnover of the game, but it was one of the most important plays of the game and may have saved a touchdown. Tennessee fell on two of its own fumbles, and Vanderbilt didn’t break up a single pass.
Vanderbilt’s garbage-time touchdown drives made the game appear more competitive than it was. In the second and third quarter and the early part of the fourth quarter when the game was decided, the Vols got good field position including a special teams touchdown, built a big efficiency advantage and finished drives.