Well, it happened…again. Tennessee started fast and finished with a whimper as they fell to visiting Arkansas 24-20 in front of an announced Neyland Stadium crowd of 101,265. The sharks are now swirling as Tennessee’s season rests delicately on the line between disappointment and utter collapse. There were a few bright spots for the Vols tonight, but it was mostly ugly as they allowed Bret Bielema to escape Knoxville with his first ever SEC road win and his first win as a Razorback in a one-possession game.
Here are five observations from tonight’s game:
Halftime adjustments: Once again, Tennessee was out-coached, out-played, and out-manned in the second half. After putting up 275 yards of offense and 10 points on the board in the first half, Tennessee’s offense mustered just three points and 90 yards of offense after the break. Running lanes that were available early disappeared late, as the Vols only rushed for a staggering four yards in the second half – yes, you read that right, four yards after halftime. Butch Jones said earlier this season that second-half adjustments are overblown and that the overall scheme and gameplan is what wins games…well, through five games, Tennessee is 2-3 and they’ve been thoroughly whipped in the second half in each of their three losses.
Look at this disparity…
Rush defense: Tennessee’s rushing defense hasn’t been great in 2015, but tonight was absolutely abysmal. Arkansas had two players go over the century mark tonight in Alex Collins and Rawleigh Williams. Collins carried the load with 27 carries for 154 yards and two touchdowns, while Williams provided the change of pace at times with 14 carries for 100 yards. On the night, Arkansas rushed 50 times for 275 yards (49 for 288 without a late, clock-killing scramble by Brandon Allen). Tennessee players missed tackles, stayed blocked and were caught out of position too often all night long, which allowed Arkansas to move that ball, and, ultimately, grind away the game. Tennessee needs to shore some things up in the middle if they are to have any hope of salvaging this season.
14-point collapse: In a theme that has become far too familiar for Tennessee this season, the Vols blew another double-digit lead on their way to defeat. In their three losses this season, Tennessee has now blown a 17-point lead against Oklahoma, a 13-point lead against Florida and a 14-point lead to Arkansas. Power-5 conference teams are 157-5 this season when holding a 13-point lead or greater at any point during the game, and three of those five losses now belong to Tennessee. It’s hard to believe that it has come to this point, but Tennessee’s team is so starved for confidence that not even a two-touchdown lead is enough to inspire hope. What a sad state of affairs we are currently witnessing.
No rest for the weary: Tennessee now sits at 2-3…and all three of those losses have come in heartbreaking fashion. But Tennessee won’t have any time to feel sorry for themselves after this one, because the Eastern Division favorite of the SEC comes to town next Saturday for a 3:30 kickoff. The Georgia Bulldogs will be steaming after their 38-10 thrashing at the hands of Alabama this afternoon. And, speaking of Alabama, the Vols will travel to Tuscaloosa on October 24th following a bye week after the Georgia game, and then make the short drive up to Lexington for a Halloween game against the Kentucky Wildcats. Odds are that Tennessee heads to The Commonwealth at 2-5, which means that Tennessee will need to, once again, win four out of their final five games to become bowl eligible.
Now what: This isn’t exactly a groundbreaking point, but things are about to get very testy in Knoxville for a few months. As it stands, nothing short of running the table could turn this season around and get the fans back on board. Disappointment is widespread, apathy will surge, and Tennessee could have a very big problem on their hands if those fans decide to stop showing up for home games. Doubt surrounding Butch Jones and his staff is now at an all-time high and it’s only a matter of time before the questions and concerns start to have a huge impact on this staff’s ability to recruit at the level they’ve become accustomed to. Hold on tight, guys…It’s about to get rocky in Knoxville.
Final Stats: pic.twitter.com/rIfjb0lWdj
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) October 4, 2015