FINAL: Arkansas 24, Tennessee 20

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    Butch Jones Bret Bielema-1-2Pre-game notes:

    • Representatives from the Belk and Citrus Bowl are in attendance. Scouts from the Falcons, Texans and Dolphins are also in attendance.

    • Running back/return man Ralph David Abernathy IV is in uniform and going through warm-ups. He hasn’t played since the opener against Bowling Green with an ankle injury, though Butch Jones said he may be available today.

    • WR Marquez North is not in uniform and it looks like he won’t play. We haven’t seen WR Pig Howard warming up yet either. WR Johnathon Johnson, who has been limited, is dressed and looks fine going through warm-ups. WR Cody Blanc, LB Quart’e Sapp (in a walking boot). LB Curt Maggitt,  and WR Jason Croom are among the other players not dressed to play.

    • In initial passing warm-ups, Preston Williams, Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone were the starting receivers with Josh Smith, Johnathon Johnson and Von Pearson running with the second team. Everything else looks pretty much the same in terms of who is working with the starters in warm-ups.

    • With a steady drizzle coming down all afternoon, it’s definitely a late-arriving crowd that will not fill in the entire stadium this evening.

    • Kenny Bynum was listed as the starting Sam linebacker, so it looks like they’ll go with Bynum, Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Jalen Reeves-Maybin at linebacker instead of inserting freshman Austin Smith into the starting lineup, as the depth chart indicated earlier this week.

    First Quarter (Vols lead 14-7): Wow, what a start. Evan Berry took the opening kickoff back 96 yards to give the Vols an early lead just seconds into the game. Tennessee was flagged for sideline interference (it looked like the ref ran into a sound guy), but that penalty was enforced on the kickoff. Despite that penalty, the Vols were able to get a stop near midfield and the ball back after the Razorbacks picked up a couple first downs.

    Tennessee absolutely rolled down the field on the next drive – mixing up the run and the pass on the way to an 11-play, 89-yard drive that took 3:23 off the clock. The Razorbacks looked significantly outmatched defensively on that drive with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara both ripping off long runs and Joshua Dobbs, who converted a first down with a nice pass to Josh Smith on a slant a few plays earlier, finishing off the drive with a touchdown run to the pylon.

    Arkansas responded with a nice counter-attack on the next drive, needing just four plays to travel the length of the field for a touchdown. The big play was a 50+ yards reception by Drew Morgan, who slipped behind UT’s coverage on a play-action by Brandon Allen, made the catch and ran inside UT territory. Alex Collins finished the drive off a couple plays later with a 4-yard TD.

    The two teams exchanged stops with Tennessee getting the last real chance to put points on the board in the first quarter. The Vols moved into the red zone with a nice 31-yard screen pass to Jalen Hurd, but after Dobbs couldn’t convert a third-down pass, Tennessee had to settle for a 29-yard field goal attempt, which Aaron Medley hit the post on to squander that opportunity for more points.

    Overall, a good start for Tennessee, which held a 168-108 edge in total yardage, showed a clear athleticism edge and looked a bit more competent in the passing game, hitting on a couple short passes, though the more vertical passing attack remains a work in progress.

    Second Quarter: 17-17

    The Vols surrendered what remained of their early 14-point lead and allowed Arkansas to tie the game on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Allen to Dominique Reed to open the second quarter. Tennessee’s defense looked absolutely abysmal early in the quarter, but seemed to rally a bit later- with the exception of Arkansas’ final drive to close the half. The Vols were able to hold the Hogs to a field goal – luckily – to close the half.

    Offensively, Tennessee has a solid plan in place to beat the Razorbacks, but penalties and lack of execution are killing their momentum. The Vols have played well enough to lead by two or three touchdowns (what else is new?), but once again find themselves in the familiar position of not being able to deliver the death blow to their opponent when they have them on the ropes. The Vols enter the half now tied with Arkansas 17-17 after out-playing them for most of the opening two quarters.

    Joshua Dobbs and his receivers appear to have regained some confidence, while Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara are running well against a talented Arkansas defense. Assuming the Vols can get the defensive issues cleared up, they should be able to pull away from Arkansas in the second half.

    Third Quarter (Arkansas leads 24-20): Arkansas got the ball first in this half, and like the Vols did in the first half, the Razorbacks took full advantage of their opportunity to grab some momentum. The Razorbacks put together vintage, old-school 10-play, 80-yard drive that mixed some strong running from Alex Collins with some timely passing from Brandon Allen. That big Arkansas offensive line really imposed its will early in the second half, pushing UT back a couple yards on multiple occasions to give Collins, who is up to 95 yards rushing after that first drive of the half, plenty of room to operate.

    Tennessee was able to get three points back on the next drive when they moved 49 yards on eight plays to set up a Medley field goal that skipped off the post and in from 45 yards out. Arkansas then chewed 6:41 off the clock, advancing all the way down to the 5 before the drive stalled and Shy Tuttle blocked a low-trajectory field goal attempt to keep the Hogs off the board.

    The Vols weren’t able to capitalize on that, punting it back and now Arkansas begins the fourth quarter with the ball at its own 35 with a four-point lead. Arkansas certainly controlled the third quarter for the most part and has to like its chances heading into the fourth in this situation. The Vols have struggled to finish games where they had a late lead, so now the shoe will be on the other foot heading into the final 15 minutes.

    Fourth Quarter: Akansas 24, Vols 20 (final).

    What a cluster of a game. Tennessee’s second-half adjustments were, once again, incredibly poor. Arkansas was able to do just enough in all phases of the game to take the lead and ride out the game with it. Tennessee’s offense was absolutely abysmal after halftime, and found no consistency through the air or on the ground in the final two quarters. There were missed blocks, poor effort, drops, slips…etc. that would all combine to ultimately cost Tennessee another opportunity to put a check in the win-column on this young season.

    This game was Tennessee’s third game of the season in which they blew a 13-point lead or more, it was Bret Bielema’s first SEC road win, and his first ever win at Arkansas in a one-possession game.

    Now we start down the dark and nasty road that is a head coach in serious question. Vol fans are, rightfully, upset and disappointed, and the administration will be forced to ask a lot of tough questions after tonight’s loss.