Arkansas (1-3) at Tennessee (2-2)
Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, Tennessee
Series Record: Tennessee Leads 13-4
Setting the table
The sexy picks to take a big leap in their respective divisions this summer, both Arkansas and Tennessee could, and arguably should, enter this game undefeated. Two historic collapses for Tennessee have the Vols at 2-2. Arkansas put up 200 more yards than Toledo and dominated time of possession. And lost. They had Texas A&M beat before a late Alex Collins fumble led to an overtime loss. And they had plenty of chances in a home loss to Texas Tech. They’ve moved the ball on everyone – they just haven’t been able to put it all together in key moments. Sound familiar? Both teams desperately need this game. Arkansas hasn’t won an SEC road game under Big 10 Bret and the Vols haven’t beaten an SEC West team in ages. A loss for Arkansas, with their loaded SEC West schedule, probably means they miss a bowl game. And a loss for Tennessee, with games against Georgia and Alabama upcoming, means a 2-5 start is likely.
Who has the edge
When Tennessee throws…
Some good news for the struggling Vol passing game: the Razorback passing defense has been historically bad so far this year. They’re allowing 9.1 yards per pass attempt – that’s an astronomically tragic number if you’re a Hogs fan. For perspective, no SEC team has allowed 9.1 yards per pass attempt since at least 2007. That South Carolina defense the Vols shredded last year? They allowed “just” 7.3 yards per attempt. The 2012 Sunseri “defense” allowed 7.6 yards per attempt. Tennessee shouldn’t have to stretch the field against Arkansas to put up big numbers. The Razorbacks have had issues tackling opponents in space and leave large sections of the field completely unguarded. There will be plenty of opportunities in the middle of the field for Dobbs to connect with receivers and tight ends. This will be UT’s best chance to get the passing game going this season and the Vols should be able to right the ship. Tennessee has shredded bad defenses under Jones – the Vols are 1-13 against above average defenses during his tenure, but an impressive 13-2 against below average defenses. Arkansas struggles against mobile QBs and they don’t pressure the passer well – they rank last in the SEC in sacks with three and Tennessee’s offensive line should be able to keep Dobbs upright. Edge: Tennessee (weather is an x-factor)
When Tennessee runs…
Last week proved the Vols can run against anyone. Florida entered the game with one of the best rushing defenses in the nation and the Vols ran for nearly 300 yards. Jalen Hurd and Joshua Dobbs are freaks capable of piling up hundreds of yards after contact and Arkansas has been only average against the run. They’re allowing 3.57 yards per carry – good for 7th in the SEC. Hurd and Co. will have plenty of chances to make plays. Edge: Tennessee
When Arkansas throws…
The Vols haven’t been great against the pass – they allowed career days to Matt Johnson and Will Grier so far this season and Brandon Allen will have plenty of chances to exploit UT’s secondary. Razorback tight end Hunter Henry is one of the best in the nation and is sure to find some favorable matchups against UT’s linebackers and safeties. Tennessee’s linebackers and safeties have to be disciplined and not get sucked into play action or Allen, the second leading passer in the SEC, will shred them. Arkansas is banged up at receiver, though. They’ll be without starters Keon Hatcher and Jared Cornelius this weekend. Drew Morgan has stepped up in their absence but outside of Henry and Morgan, the Razorbacks don’t have any proven pass catchers. If Cam Sutton is healthy, the Vol secondary will have multiple opportunities to make some plays. Edge: Even
When Arkansas runs…
After inexplicably abandoning the run against Toledo (Allen threw the ball 53 times in that loss), the Hogs have gotten back to their identity as a ground and pound team. Alex Collins in the third leading rusher in the conference – he’s averaging nearly 6 yards per carry and the Hogs are averaging around 5 yards per carry as a team. They ran for over 225 yards against both Texas A&M and Texas Tech. Tennessee is allowing over 4 yards per carry on defense – 10th in the SEC – and will be in for a big test this weekend. The Vols haven’t played much 4-3 this season but will have to against Arkansas. That means true freshmen Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Austin Smith should see plenty of snaps at linebacker. Their gap discipline will be key to Tennessee’s defensive performance. Edge: Arkansas
On special teams…
Redshirt freshman kicker Cole Hedlund is 4/6 on field goal attempts this season and perfect on extra points – he does, however, have a career long of just 27 yards. Junior punter Toby Baker has kicked the ball just six times this season, so he’s a bit of an unknown. He’s averaging less than 40 yards per punt but half of his attempts have been downed inside the 20. For comparison, Tennessee punter Trevor Daniel has punted it 22 times and is averaging 48.64 yards per attempt. Aaron Medley looked like he righted the ship at Florida and only narrowly missed a 55-yard game winning field goal attempt. In the return game, Eric Hawkins is averaging 22.71 yards per return – 5th in the SEC. Evan Berry, Cam Sutton and Alvin Kamara are three of the better returners in the conference and Tennessee also boasts some of the best coverage units in the SEC. Edge: Tennessee
What Arkansas is thinking
We played much better against Texas A&M last week and appear to be finding our identity. We have to win this game. Tennessee hasn’t been able to hold a lead and they look like a mentally fragile, beatable team. This is as good an opportunity as any to pick up our first SEC road win under Bielema. We’ll be able to run the football against Tennessee and should be able to wear them down. And their passing game is so inept that even our defense may be able to cause them problems.
What Tennessee is thinking
We’re good enough to be 4-0. We should be 4-0. We can’t atone for 4th quarter collapses but can jump right back into the race for the SEC East crown with a victory over the Razorbacks. We can run it against anyone and our passing game will have plenty of chances to get going against a historically bad passing defense. We should be able to dink and dunk our way to some big plays and expose a soft middle of the Razorback defense. On the other side, we have to get off the field or Arkansas will wear us down as the game progresses.
What RTI is thinking
Butch Jones has feasted on bad defenses at Tennessee – he’s 13-2 against below average defenses and 1-13 against above average defenses. Arkansas doesn’t have an above average defense and the Vols should have plenty of opportunities, even just passing the ball within 5 yards of the line, to expose an inept Arkansas passing defense. Dobbs should be able to gain some confidence this weekend through the air and will have plenty of opportunities to make plays with his legs. Jalen Hurd should have another big day. Arkansas will move the ball and score. Possessions will be at a premium. It’ll be up to some simple execution from Tennessee’s offense for the Vols to win the game.