To be successful in an up-tempo offense, you need to move the ball and gain momentum.
You need to hit the defense with a positive play, then rush to the line for another positive play — at times catching the defense out of position.
And you need to be efficient on first down.
Tennessee was not only efficient on first down against the University of Texas at San Antonio, it was downright dynamic.
I’ve charted Tennessee football games since 1985, and I’ve never seen what Tennessee did against the Roadrunners during a 45-14 victory Saturday night.
Tennessee ran 31 first-down plays and gained a whopping 395 yards – or 12.7 yards per play.
They had five first-down plays of at least 40 yards – including Joe Milton’s opening run of 81 yards – and they had another play of 29 yards.
Besides Milton’s long run, the Vols had – on first down — a 40-yard run from Jabari Small, a 48-yard pass to Ramel Keyton, and runs of 44 and 41 yards by Dylan Sampson.
Tennessee had 11 other plays of at least 5 yards – or a total of 17.
To put that in perspective, against Florida, Tennessee gained 94 yards on 25 first downs – 3.8 yards per play — and had just eight first-down plays of at least 5 yards. It had six first-down plays of at least 10 yards.
Against UTSA, Tennessee had first-down touchdowns of 81, 18, 48 and 41 yards. And the Vols scored a touchdown of six of 13 possessions against the Roadrunners and had four three-and-outs – another example of how important staying ahead of the sticks on first down is to a hurry-up attack..
To further underscore the importance of first-down production, Tennessee had three illegal procedures on first down against Florida. The Vols failed to score on each of those possessions.
Against UTSA, the Vols had two illegal procedures – not on first down – and punted both times.
During Tennessee’s 49-13 victory over Virginia, the Vols gained 270 yards on 40 first downs (6.75 yards per play). UT had 11 plays of at least 10 yards and 24 plays of at least 5 yards.
No. 19 Tennessee (3-1) is an 11.5-point favorite against South Carolina (2-2) Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm on the SEC Network from Neyland Stadium.
The Gamecocks routed the Vols 63-38 last year in Columbia, S.C.
Will the Vols extract revenge?
That could depend on the first-down production.