Unlike the heartbreaking loss against Oklahoma, this time the Vols don't have to wait two weeks for a meaningful game to cleanse the palate. And even more than the chance to put the 2015 season back on a successful path and set up a huge opportunity against Georgia, Saturday night should help Tennessee in the on-field area it has struggled with the most.
The Vols are a Top 50 offense in four of the five factors at Football Study Hall. Tennessee has excelled at winning the turnover and field position battles, and been above average in efficiency and finishing drives. But explosive plays have been largely absent, especially in the passing game. Take away the two trick plays in Gainesville and you're left with Josh Dobbs' 10 of 17 for 83 yards. What Dobbs can do against good defenses remains a question mark, and a significant one. But this is not the week for that question. This is the week for building confidence.
The top five SEC teams in pass defense all allow between 5.3-5.5 yards per attempt. The next seven allow between 5.9-6.7 yards per attempt, including the Vols at 6.4. Then you've got South Carolina, who Dobbs torched last year, at 7.8 yards allowed per attempt.
And then there's Arkansas.
Last year the Hogs finished 64th nationally in yards per attempt allowed. They blew past UTEP in the opener 48-13, but allowed 14 of 19 passing for 146 yards (7.7 ypa). They were better against Toledo despite the loss at 6.2 ypa. But the last two weeks have been disastrous:
- Texas Tech: 27 of 31 (87.1%) (!) 315 yards, 10.2 ypa
- Texas A&M: 21 of 28 (75.0%), 358 yards, 12.8 ypa
Just did this research for a story on UT's receivers. Vols are the only SEC team on which no WR has 100 receiving yards.— Dustin Dopirak (@TennesseeBeat) September 28, 2015
Tennessee has been banged up at receiver, with Pig Howard missing the Florida game, Jason Croom still not back from off-season surgery, Marquez North possibly less than 100% all year and Jonathan Johnson also banged up. The Vols were also without Von Pearson and Preston Williams for portions of preseason camp. These are all little things that can certainly add up, but the Vols' unwillingness to go downfield against Oklahoma and Florida is certainly at the front of everyone's mind.
Fortunately Tennessee wasn't as reluctant against Bowling Green or Western Carolina, and should have plenty of opportunities to be explosive in the pass game against Arkansas. The Razorbacks present not only a chance for a much-needed win, but a chance for a much-needed spark for Tennessee's passing game.