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The Blueprint: How Tennessee Can Beat Arkansas


Editor’s note: For SEC games this season, Daniel Lewis will put together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.

Offense: Tennessee is going to have every opportunity to win this game with its offense. The Arkansas defense, though it showed some progress last week in the overtime loss to Texas A&M, has some fairly significant deficiencies that can be exploited.

That starts with the secondary, which is currently last in the SEC in passing defense. The Vols must take advantage of that to win this football game. There’s some talent and potential in the secondary for Arkansas, but the Razorbacks have consistently struggled to locate the ball and make tackles in the second and third levels of the defense. Throw in a few athleticism questions at the linebacker position for Arkansas, and Tennessee, even with its immense struggles throwing the ball down the field, has a chance to expose the Razorbacks in this area. Can they? That remains to be seen.Joshua Dobbs-1

But running the ball, as it will be all season, must remain a priority for Tennessee. Lost in the meltdown at the end to Florida was that Tennessee can seemingly run the ball against anybody. The Gators came into that game ranked second in the league in rush defense and Tennessee put up approximately 100 more yards on the ground than Florida’s first three opponents combined. Arkansas is going to sell out to stop the run, as they should, but the Vols still have to find a way to stay in front of the sticks and churn out yardage on the ground. There should be opportunities on the ground for Joshua Dobbs based on not only what he did to Florida, but also  based on some film on Arkansas that shows the Razorbacks struggling against running quarterbacks at times.

Finding some running room will also be important in terms of the Vols playing complimentary football as well. The most sure-fire way to lose to Arkansas is to have short possessions and to give them the football back time and time again without controlling much of the clock. Arkansas wants to ground and pound and keep defenses on the field for a long period of time. The Razorbacks lead the SEC in average time of possession (nearly 36 minutes per game), so UT can’t have three and outs that don’t give the defense time to rest and regroup.

Red-zone scoring will be big as well, just as it is every week in big games. Texas A&M had an opportunity to go up 21-7 on Arkansas early, but settled for two field goals from inside the 5-yard line. The Hogs almost came back and made them pay with a loss. Possessions will be at a premium this game, so scoring touchdowns instead of field goals must be on UT’s to-do list Saturday.

And it almost goes without saying, but the Vols must finish with an aggressive mindset. Arkansas isn’t built to come from behind per se, but neither was Florida, honestly. If Tennessee has the chance to win the game with a first down or a late score, Butch Jones and the staff must have that mindset of looking to convert those opportunities as opposed to trying to run clock and escape.

Defense: Even with many top players on offense out, the Razorbacks still present plenty of challenges for Tennessee’s defense. And that starts with stopping the run, where, even without Jonathan Williams this season, Arkansas still has a line full of behemoths that will create enough room for Alex Collins and Rawleigh Williams III to make plays. The Hogs racked up 232 yards on the ground against A&M last week, so despite not clicking on all cylinders in the run game early this year, the potential is still there.Austin Smith-1

Expect the Vols to use a much heavier dose of the 4-3 this week, and that puts the onus on players such as young linebackers Austin Smith and Darrin Kirkland Jr. to really step up, fill their gaps and help get Arkansas off the field. The Razorbacks are really going to put stress on those linebackers though. If they sell-out to the run too much, tight end Hunter Henry is a really good football player who can make cheating linebackers pay.

The Hogs will look to Henry early and often, especially if the Vols stack the box. The Vols will have to trust a lot of man coverage in the secondary this week, though Arkansas Drew Morgan (18 catches, 303 yards) has really stepped up with some of the other injuries at receiver, and must be accounted for. Look for a lot of LaDarrell McNeil at safety as well. He’s a big hitter and solid in run support, so get him on the field and drop him down into the box as a de facto third or fourth linebacker when the situation dictates it.

The Arkansas offensive line is staunch in the middle, so the Vols will have to play some pass-rush games and work to get around the big group. Left tackle Denver Kirkland, especially, is a very strong and physical mauler, but he can be exposed sometimes by the speed rush, so, in passing situations, Tennessee needs to work to get around him, get to Brandon Allen and see if they can knock the ball out and get a freebie or two that way.

And while everybody will get nervous if UT builds another lead in this one, this is the one game this year you really, really would like to have one if you’re UT’s defense. Arkansas is at its best with a lead, an edge in time of possession and when it can keep teams off balance with runs and play action. If the Hogs are playing from behind, it remains to be seen if Allen and these receivers can drop back consistently and come from behind in a road environment.

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