The game this Saturday between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Arkansas Razorbacks has bounced around our weekly expectations chart like almost no other this season. They're like us, but in the West, so they're going to be tough! Oh, no! They've learned how to pass, so they're going to be even better! Oh, my! They lost to Toledo! Never mind! Oh, my! They lost again! Oh, my, my, my! They just did what we just did! Are they any good or not?
Out of all of that noise, I think it's safe to say that Arkansas is still a very dangerous team. Maybe they're everything we thought they were before the season began, except that they're like those 6-foot-tall 12-year-olds still getting used to the new length of their bones. Maybe they (and we) just need to grow into our new roles a bit still. In any event, it's looking like this is the game we thought it was going to be before the season began: A contest between two rebuilding programs, dangerous to self and others. Who's going to grow up the most this week? Let's take a look.
Good Against Good. Bad news, Vols fans. Arkansas appears to be about as good at defending the run as does Florida. So, you say? We ran for 248 yards against those stupid Gators!
Yes, but ask yourself how many of those were out of our base offense and how many were on trick plays you're not likely to see again this week. Then answer yourself with the number 82. Okay, so 166 rushing yards against a defense that is good at stopping the run is still pretty good, so maybe we're in good shape here. (Um, never mind. Those trick plays were pass plays, and we're talking run game here.) It's what we do. And yet, stopping what we do is what they do.
Bad Against Bad. I'm sorry to do this to you, but I have to point out here that Tennessee's passing game is averaging a mere 183 yards per game, and it's done that against teams ranked 43rd, 63rd, and 108th in the nation at passing yards allowed. Allow me to put it more bluntly: The Vols have played three teams not very good at defending the pass and yet haven't passed the ball very well at all. The good news is Arkansas is another team that is not very good at defending the pass, giving up 264 yards per game. Given that the going on the ground may prove difficult this week, perhaps the Vols offense will see if they can make hay through the air. Maybe this is the game where the wide receivers bust loose. Let's hope.
The Mystery Box. The Arkansas offense has a truck of a back and a roadgrading crew out front, and they've had some success with those guys. And yet, they've also somewhat inexplicably developed a bit of an identity as a passing team. That's odd, although it is generally deemed a positive to have a balanced offense. Tennessee's defense may be fine against the road crew and perhaps a little more vulnerable through the air. Frankly, I think Arkansas is going to be able to move the ball and make us uncomfortable long before we get to the fourth quarter this week. We just need to outgain them, and we'll likely need to do it on fewer possessions than we've had in prior games this season.
The Brain Game. Much has been made of this, but both teams have shown the tendency to go Tennessee Fainting Goat with the game on the line. This is a close call, but I'm giving the edge to the Vols here. Tennessee's been subject to soul-crushing defeats at the hands of #15 Oklahoma and #25 Florida. The pain emanates from having had the win in their hot little hands just before breaking it into shards on the concrete. But they had it; they just couldn't keep it. Arkansas, on the other hand, has not only experienced the same thing against #14 Texas A&M, they've also lost outright to unranked Texas Tech and, ahem, unranked Holy Toledo. The Vols may need to make some small correction by drying their fingers or dialing up the aggression a notch more and a touch longer, but Arkansas looks like they may need long-term therapy.
I was really looking forward to this post and predicting a comfortable victory for the Vols this weekend, but after looking at it more closely, I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that it could be way too close for comfort. But before you put on your freak out pants and conclude that we can't win if it's close, consider this: Maybe freaking out is the problem. So leave your anxiety at home and come to Neyland Stadium Saturday with your game face on and confidence in your chest. Let's get those Hogs and get this team back on track.
Vols 23, Hogs 20
Here's the comparison chart, for what it's worth at this point in the season. Keep in mind that Tennessee's numbers have been compiled against the 3rd-most difficult schedule and Arkansas' numbers have been compiled against the 19th-most difficult schedule. For those of you more interested in advanced stats, you can find them here (Tennessee's | Arkansas'). SPOILER: Advanced stats say that Tennessee has a 61% chance of winning, and by a projected margin of 4.7 at that. See? Confidence, I tell you.
|Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Closest Lower||Closest Higher||Closest Lower||Closest Higher|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. Arkansas rushing defense||18||248||17||93.8||Florida||None||Florida||None||180|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. Arkansas passing defense||102||183||99||264||Bowling Green||Oklahoma||Bowling Green||Oklahoma||220|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. Arkansas rushing offense||52||145.8||60||186.3||Oklahoma||None||Oklahoma||None||160|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. Arkansas passing offense||87||248.3||31||285.3||Florida||OK/BG||Florida||OK/BG||240|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. Arkansas scoring defense||20||41.3||57||23||Bowling Green||Oklahoma||Bowling Green||Oklahoma||23|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. Arkansas scoring offense||70||24.8||87||26.3||None||Florida||None||Florida||20|