This Saturday's match-up between the Tennessee Volunteers and Arkansas Razorbacks will be one of the more interesting games on the SEC slate. Not because it will be a game between elite programs at the top of their respective divisions, but because both teams are two of the more disappointing teams in the country so far this season. Both squads have head coaches under fire from both local and national media, and both are in desperate need of a win.
Tennessee's woes have been well-documented if you frequent this site or are on social media of any kind. Head coach Butch Jones and his staff have been the targets for fans' ire after mismanaging the two biggest games on Tennessee's schedule and losing after earning two-score leads in both, and some fans have jumped ship on Jones and his staff after the two collapses. But if there's a team under more scrutiny than the Vols, it just may be Arkansas. Aside from Auburn, the Razorbacks may just be the most disappointing team in the SEC. Arkansas comes into this weekend's game on a three-game losing streak, dropping games to Toledo, Texas Tech, and Texas A&M. The Razorbacks were picked by many to be dark horse contenders for the SEC West title and were billed as a program on the rise. But 2015 has been nothing but a disappointment for Arkansas, and a 1-3 start has them searching for answers.
Before the 2015 season started, this match-up was hyped as a battle of the programs of the future in their respective divisions, as both teams were viewed as the top rising programs in their divisions. But now that the season is actually underway, both teams have been major letdowns. The Vols have had multiple meltdowns and let both Oklahoma and Florida erase two-score deficits and mount improbably comebacks, and the Razorbacks have lost two non-conference games they had no business losing and had a fourth quarter collapse of their own against Texas A&M last Saturday. Both teams are reeling at this point, and neither one can seem to win close games.
Via @SBN_BillC, Arkansas has lost 14 straight 1-possession games. Now they play Butch Jones. Is it possible neither team closes it out?— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 29, 2015
After yet another disappointing loss to Florida, Tennessee's 11th straight to the Gators, the Vols need a bounce-back game, and Arkansas may provide just that. But because of the disappointing way in which Arkansas' season has played out, Vol fans won't be impressed by a victory over the Razorbacks. A loss would be devastating and likely the final nail in the coffin for every Vol fan out there, but a win is highly unlikely to win back the favor of any of the fans. Even if a win comes after gaining a lead and holding onto it in the fourth quarter.
Arkansas has the worst pass defense in the SEC so far this season, giving up 264 yards a game. The Razorbacks have been burned through the air in two straight games, giving up 315 yards to Texas Tech and 358 to Texas A&M's Kyle Allen. In contrast, Arkansas has given up a mere 93.8 yards a game on the ground, good for 2nd in the conference. This should be the game where the Vols finally open up their passing game and attempt to exploit the Razorbacks' secondary, but there has been nothing at this point that indicates Tennessee's coaching staff is willing to toss the ball around and be a true threat in the passing game. Even if they did, fans would write off the uptick in passing proficiency as a product of the team the Vols played rather than anything the offense was able to do itself.
This game has gone from a highly-anticipated match-up that would serve as a measuring stick for both team's rebuilding efforts to a game that neither team can afford to lose. Fans of both teams expected either team to finish the year with just three or four losses at the most, and to have that total by the first week of October would cause a frenzy among either fan base. Both teams are too talented to be in this position, but that's where they are.
There's really nothing the Vols can do this weekend that would impress fans and heal any of the wounds inflicted over the opening month of the season. This game has become more of a "cannot-lose" than a must-win for Tennessee, and Butch Jones and his staff need the win for the team and fan base's psyche. But a win over Arkansas won't undo the damage caused by Tennessee's collapses.