Tennessee can’t afford to fool around against Arkansas. | Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Can the Vols get back on track against the Hogs?
The Tennessee Volunteers (2-3) are coming off their bye week in hopes of ending a three-game losing streak. Ugly losses to Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama currently have the program reeling and searching for answers.
Can the Vols find said answers against a competitive Arkansas Razorbacks (2-3) team?
- All-time series record: Tennessee leads, 13-5.
- Longest win streak: The Vols won six games in a row from 1993-1998.
- Interesting series fact: Tennessee averages 29.3 points per game against the Razorbacks, but hasn’t won in Fayetteville since 2001.
- 2020 offensive and defensive rankings: Tennessee is the SEC’s 12th-best team in terms of total offense (13th passing, 8th rushing) and ninth in terms of total defense (7th passing, 9th rushing). Arkansas is 10th in total offense (8th passing, 11th rushing) and 10th in total defense (5th passing, 12th rushing).
What To Watch For
- Getting back on track: The Vols have lost three straight games and 10 of the last 12 quarters have been abysmal football. This game was once thought to be an automatic win, but that’s no longer the case. Can the Vols get back on track against a tough Arkansas squad?
- Jarrett Guarantano’s leash: How much leeway will Tennessee’s quarterback have on Saturday? It’s obvious that Jeremy Pruitt will pull Guarantano if need be, but it’s also obvious that he has no issue plugging him right back in if things go awry. All of a sudden, it feels like 2019 all over again.
- Tennessee’s secondary vs. WR Treylon Burks: The sophomore receiver is showing what he is capable of in 2020. Burks can line up on the outside or in the slot and also has both the size and speed at 6-foot-3, 232-pounds to beat you. We’ve seen the Vols secondary struggle all year long. How will it deal with Burks on Saturday?
- Tennessee’s offensive line vs. Arkansas’ defensive line: The Vols will need to establish a ground game on Saturday and Arkansas is currently allows the third-most rushing yards per game in the SEC. Per Football Outsiders, Arkansas has the 93rd-ranked defensive line in terms of adjusted line yards, while the Vols have the 29th-ranked offensive line. Tennessee also outpaces Arkansas in every metric outside of power rank. With all the questions at quarterback, it would make sense for the Vols to get the running game going this week and Arkansas represents a good matchup to do so against.
- Tennessee off a bye week: There were plenty of questions surrounding this team as it entered the bye week, but the players and coaching staff have a great opportunity to answer said questions with a big win over a decent Arkansas team. Tennessee is 2-1 coming off the bye week under Pruitt. Can it get to 3-1?
- QB Jarrett Guarantano: Whether it’s good or bad, JG will affect this game in some regard. Let’s just hope it’s the former and not the latter.
- The offensive line: The group looked great for the first two weeks and it’s all fallen apart since. Arkansas represents a good opportunity to get things moving in the right direction, but will it happen?
- WR Josh Palmer: He’s Tennessee’s biggest playmaker and will need to see the ball early and often. As long as Guarantano can make it happen, of course.
- OLB Deandre Johnson: The Razorbacks aren’t good in pass protection, so it will be up to Johnson and the pass rush to set the tone on defense for the Vols.
- MLB Henry To’o To’o: He’s Tennessee’s best defensive player. Enough said.
- CB Bryce Thompson: Someone will be responsible for Burks and Thompson will likely be the guy.
- QB Feleipe Franks: He’s had somewhat of a career rival in Fayetteville. Vols fans’ most recent memory of Franks is his game-winning Hail Mary back in 2017 when he played for Florida.
- Arkansas’ running backs: The offense received a major boost when Rakeem Boyd decided to forgo the NFL Draft, but he hasn’t been the same guy he was in 2018 & 2019. That’s OK though, because Trelon Smith is 13th in rushing yards in the the SEC among running backs. Boyd had his first 100-yard game of the season last week against Texas A&M, so the Vols’ run defense will need to be on its game this week.
- WR Treylon Burks: There’s a reason I mentioned him earlier in the preview. Burks has at least seven receptions and 100 receiving yards in every game he’s played at full capacity in 2020.
- DL Dorian Gerald: Up until last week, Gerald had played in just one game due to an ankle injury, but was able to notch 1.5 sacks in the season opener against Georgia. That number is still good for the team lead despite Gerald’s three-game absence.
- LB Grant Morgan: Many wondered who would take the place of De’Jon Harris. It looks Morgan is filling in just fine. He leads the team with 58 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and is tied for the team lead with four pass deflections. Oh, he also has an interception returned for a touchdown, as well.
- CB Hudson Clark: The true freshmen leads the team —and is tied for first in the SEC— with three interceptions on the year.
I really, truly have no idea how this game is going to turn out. But this isn’t soccer where draws exist. It’s the SEC. There has to be a winner at some point.
If I were a betting man, my money would be on Arkansas and this is why: The Razorback defense held the Ole Miss offense to just 21 points, which is their lowest point total on the season.
Barry Odom is doing a hell of a job with this defense and I think it will be a difference-maker in this game. It’s hard to trust the Tennessee offense to do anything of worth for four quarters. The defense should be able to hold its own, but it’s hard to have any kind of faith in Guarantano and co.
Don’t count Tennessee out in this one, but the Vols are going to have play really good ball on Saturday if they want to win and for now, I just don’t see that happening.