If you had told me in July that Arkansas and Tennessee would meet this Saturday with a combined record of 3-5, I would have said that you were a complete fool. Yet, somehow, here we are.
Arkansas and Bielema have had to deal with injuries to their best running back (Jonathan Williams) and best receiver (Keon Hatcher), while Tennessee and Butch Jones have dealt with injuries of their own to key players, but Tennessee’s biggest problem this season has been Tennessee. This game has been referred to as the “Sadness Bowl” by some on social media and I don’t think that title is too far off.
Both teams are looking for a season-salvaging win on Saturday, because the loser’s season immediately goes down the toilet on Saturday night. So, here’s what the Hogs will be bringing into Neyland Stadium this weekend and what the Vols will need to do in order to right the ship and collect win number three in 2015.
0:00: Play one is an Arky staple. Heavy play-action to suck in the linebackers/safeties and then try to go big over the top. A&M covers it brilliantly, but Brandon Allen is still able to use his legs to move the sticks. Tennessee got burned by trying to spy Florida’s Will Grier in the fourth quarter, so it will be worth watching to see how Jancek tries to keep Allen in check.
0:13: Allen shows off his big arm here on 2nd and 21. If he has time in the pocket, he can really spin it.
0:22: Drew Morgan is Arkansas’ most consistent weapon at receiver right now. He isn’t some type of athletic freak, but he gets open and he catches the football. The play-action here sucks in the defense, and Allen finds Morgan for an easy throw-and-catch for the score.
0:45: Arkansas defensive line is a shell of what they were last season, and they have struggled this year to get pressure on the quarterback. Here, they send four and get beat on a deep comeback route. Then they compound the poor coverage with a missed tackle that results in a huge play for Texas A&M. If the Vols will trust their receivers to make plays (HUGE if), then there are plays to be made against the Hogs.
1:26: Seven players in the box and the Hogs are still able to hit a big run. This is a game where the Vols will need Darrin Kirkland Jr. to grow up in a hurry. I expect Arkansas to run right at Tennessee’s middle linebacker for most of the night, so getting off blocks and securing tackles will be of utmost importance.
1:36: As improved as Brandon Allen is, he’s still far from perfect. He has plenty of time and space in the pocket to make this throw, but he loses his mechanics and tosses an easy interception to the Aggies. Tennessee’s defensive backs will have opportunities for interceptions on Saturday if they play smart football.
2:18: Watch the Arkansas linebackers bite on the fake handoff. #28 loses track of the H-back (lightning-fast Christian Kirk) and Kyle Allen completes an easy throw. This is a great play by A&M to really challenge Arkansas’ athleticism. Tennessee has yet to really utilize play-action in the downfield passing game – typically choosing to stick to the run, regardless of defensive reads – but they’ll have openings against Arkansas if they can have some early success running the ball – which, in my opinion, they will.
2:59: Another play-action look from Arkansas, this time they run a bootleg out of it and Allen finds Drew Morgan again. Expect to see this a lot on Saturday.
3:09: Play-action…again…and Allen finds the tight end in the flat for a first down.
4:20: Alex Collins goes out, and Rawleigh Williams comes in. He’s just as talented as Collins, so relaxing when he comes in could prove catastrophic for the Vol defense. Arkansas has a lot of confidence in both of their backs, so don’t look for them to lean towards the pass just because Collins needs a breather.
4:33: You think Arkansas likes the play-action pass this year?
4:45: Oh my.
4:56: Arkansas gets man-to-man coverage and runs a rub-rout to, you guessed it, Drew Morgan. I don’t know if Morgan will be Cam Sutton’s official assignment on Saturday, but the Vols need to make sure they keep tabs on him during every play.
Tough loss for the Hogs, but they actually played much better in this one than they did against Texas Tech. They have deficiencies in the secondary and their defensive line is good, not great. They don’t blitz a ton – at least not yet – probably in an attempt to protect their secondary as much as they can and drop more people into coverage. Offensively, they are a play-action team through and through. They have two great backs in Collins and Williams, and they use them to give Allen a clean pocket and open up the middle of the field in passing situations. Tennessee has to keep an eye out for tight end Hunter Henry, who was mostly quiet against Texas A&M, but certainly has the ability to beat you in the passing game.