With the kind of improvement and momentum the Tennessee Volunteers finished with last Saturday, it would be fun to see what kind of performance they could put on this weekend. However, it's the first bye of the season for the team, so it's time to look back on a few statistical surprises.
Overall, the record of 3-3 is unsurprising. While the path had some rock-bottom lows (Oregon) and some zenith-like highs (Georgia), the destination of .500 at the halfway point was widely predicted,
A few players and units, though, have had some surprising stats, both good and bad. Here are the five most startling.
Rajion Neal rushed for 708 yards last season. Halfway through the 2013 season, the tailback has nearly eclipsed that total with 616 hard-fought yards, good for second the in SEC and 11th in the NCAA.
This year, Neal has gone from a good athlete who can make plays occasionally to an all-effort, all-the-time bruiser who showed off his improved speed on a 4th-and-1 against No. 6 Georgia last week.
The senior is on pace for more than 200 carries and 1,200 yards. This would be the most for a Vols running back since Montario Hardesty in 2009.
Michael Palardy has gone from liability to asset in the course of 10 months. At this point last year, the kicker had already missed two extra points and lost the starting job to walk-on Derrick Brodus.
Now, the junior is a perfect 25-of-25 on the year and has missed only one field goal, a 52-yarder.
There was a lot of talk about Palardy's offseason improvement, but after three years of subpar play, skepticism was rampant. Not anymore.
Boosted by a turnover eruption by Western Kentucky, Tennessee has forced 2.5 turnovers per game for a total of 15 on the year. Still, the Vols would have nine takeaways on the season if you omit that game.
What's more, the team has taken two back for touchdowns, while many others directly led to points. Capitalizing on opponents' mistakes is a tradition on Rocky Top.
"Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way—SCORE." - General Neyland's Second Maxim.
Not yet a year removed from an ACL tear, highly touted linebacker Curt Maggitt remains on the sidelines. It seems as though he's been at "85 percent" for months.
In his steed, Dontavis Sapp has risen to the occasion, supplying the Tennessee defense with good speed and strong play at outside linebacker, similar to what Maggitt would bring.
Still, many believe (a healthy) Maggitt is the best Vol defender, so his omission from the field of play thus far is both troubling and surprising.
Maybe this isn't totally surprising, but it's at the very least impressive. With three consecutive losing seasons, the first time that's happened in nearly a century at Tennessee, Butch Jones and company have proceeded to reel in recruit after recruit for next year.
From early commits like Vic Wharton, Todd Kelly and Jalen Hurd to recent additions like Dontavius Blair and Derek Barnett, it's clear that Jones is connecting with high school prospects. His personal relationship with these players is only bolstered with clearly improved, more cohesive on-field play.
At this rate, it's fun to wonder what kind of recruits the coaching staff will pull in when the seasons begin to churn out more wins.