The most interesting team statistic to follow this football season regarding the Tennessee Volunteers under first-year coach Josh Heupel could be time of possession.
Take last Thursday's 38-6 drubbing of Bowling Green as an example.
Tennessee opened the game by impressively reeling off 12 plays in two minutes and 59 seconds and capped the drive with Joe Milton's 4-yard touchdown run, so possession time seemed pretty pointless. Yet the Vols had the ball for just 2:38 of the second quarter, when the Falcons used two field goals to pull within 14-6 at halftime.
The Vols wound up winning with ease despite having the ball for 26:07 of the game's 60 minutes.
"I think the biggest thing is controlling the clock in certain situations," Heupel said Wednesday. "To me, that starts with the end of each half, but it can be having the lead and being able to milk it in four-minute situations earlier in the football game. To me, that's the biggest thing.
"You want to look more at the number of plays and being able to stay on the field during those third-down situations before you look at straight time of possession, but I certainly look at winning those end-of-game situations as being extremely important."
Tennessee overwhelmed Bowling Green by an 88-61 margin in offensive plays.
Yet Heupel would love to avoid some of the time of possession numbers from his 2017 season in the Southeastern Conference, when he was serving as Missouri's second-year offensive coordinator. The Tigers averaged a whopping 502.2 yards per game to rank eighth nationally, and quarterback Drew Lock set an SEC record with 44 touchdown tosses (LSU's Joe Burrow would throw an eye-popping 60 in 2019).
Missouri went 7-6 that year, losing to Texas 33-16 in the Texas Bowl, and the Tigers lost the time of possession category by more than 10 minutes in each of those setbacks but one. In a 51-14 home loss to Auburn, Heupel's offense had possession for 25:40 to Auburn's 34:20.
The biggest difference occurred in Purdue's 35-3 rout, as the Boilermakers limited Mizzou to just 16:17 of possession time.
"I don't care if you go fast or slow — if you're going three-and-out, you're applying pressure to the other side of the football," Heupel said. "It's about playing complementary football together, whether you're playing with pace or not playing with pace."
Evans in question?
Tennessee running back Tiyon Evans, the transfer from Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College who had 16 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown in his Neyland Stadium debut, may not be a certainty to play Saturday when the Vols host Pittsburgh.
"We talk about injuries later in the week," Heupel said during his turn on Wednesday's SEC teleconference. "Those are things that we'll address as we get closer to kickoff. I don't like to speculate at the beginning of the week here."
Start times vary
The Vols already have quite the discrepancy in starting times, with the Bowling Green game having kicked off at 8 p.m. on the SEC Network and with the Pitt game set for noon on ESPN.
Does Heupel have a preference?
"For our players, I don't really think it matters," he said. "It's about being prepared and ready to play when it's time to kick off. If you ask most players and coaches, they would prefer to play early because you get to go to bed, wake up and the game is on you.
"You're not sitting around in a hotel all day with anticipation. For the players, they get a chance to enjoy their families after the ballgame and kind of decompress and enjoy the moment."