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Most Important Vol - Arkansas

Our writing staff makes its picks for the game's most important player...

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week it was all about Josh Dobbs, who was far more successful running the ball against Florida than any of us imagined.  With Arkansas coming to town, the focus of this question shifts to the defense...

Will Shelton Darrin Kirkland Jr.

There should be an opportunity here for the Vol offense to stretch its legs a bit against an anemic Razorback pass defense.  But this will be the first time Tennessee's defense will go against a good back/good line combo, and "good" is an understatement on Arkansas' line.  Toledo has been the only team able to slow down Alex Collins; if the Vols are going to get in that business, it will have to be linebackers and safeties making more plays than usual as I don't expect Tennessee's defensive line to be as successful going against Arkansas' offensive line.  Kirkland should be getting more and more snaps at MLB as the season goes on, and his ceiling is just higher than Colton Jumper's, who hurt the Vols on Florida's first drive last week.  My early take on Kirkland is he seems to be around the action a great deal, but has struggled to finish the play.  This week should be a big challenge and a big opportunity for the young guy.

I_S -- Whoever starts at DT

I know this is cheating by not selecting a single, clearly defined player, but the fact is that a defensive line that was supposed to be a strength has not looked as dominant as they should against rebuilding offensive lines from Oklahoma and Florida. Arkansas's line is not rebuilding, and if Tennessee let Kelvin Taylor have a success rate in the mid-40s, it's going to be a chore stopping Alex Collins, who had a success rate around 70% against A&M. If the Vols are going to hold him in check, it starts with holding their own in the middle, and that's on the DTs to take a step forward.

Chris Pendley - Cameron Sutton

When in doubt, right? This is part everyone else covered for me and part hoping he stays on the field the entire game this time around. I'm not sure his absence in the fourth quarters against Oklahoma and Florida was why Tennessee lost both games (and definitely make sense if he picked up small injuries), but since we're well into the "if one or two things change we're fine" territory, who knows--if Sutton goes four quarters, that might be all we need to see a win on Saturday. If he's not on the field, Tennessee's defense is worse off, so flip the script and let's see what happens.

Also, not gonna lie: I was getting not-picking-Sutton withdrawals.

Charlie Burris - Every Wide Receiver

Against the Florida Gators, Tennessee wide receivers had two catches for a grand total of 7 yards. This is embarrassing as a standalone stat and even more embarrassing when you consider that UT enjoys calling itself Wide Receiver U. The Vols have to throw the ball, vertically and across the middle of the field to improve the offensive attack. Josh Dobbs needs the confidence of completed throws and the wide receivers need to know that they aren't useless to this team. The stable of wideouts Tennessee has on its roster is a fountain of riches that is being completely squandered and adding a decently successful passing element to the offense will make it that much more effective when added to the success that the team has had running the ball. And if Tennessee actually throws the ball, it will be an indicator that the coaches are actually seeing the error in their ways and aren't as tone deaf as they currently seem.

Nathanael Rutherford: Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Arkansas can and will run the ball this Saturday, and Tennessee will need to be prepared to defend the run like they never have so far this season. But the Razorbacks are better at passing the ball than they are given credit for, and that's why JRM is the most important Vol this weekend. He is the leader of the front seven with Maggitt out, and he can disrupt the offense in multiple ways. He will need to have a great game and help the younger players line up correctly in order to slow down Arkansas' offense.

Hunter Turner - Aaron Medley

It's not fair to put all of our football hopes and dreams on the foot of a sophomore kicker, especially when the kick is 55 yards and the dream is to end a ten-year losing streak to a hated rival. However, if Medley knocks that kick through the uprights, we're having an entirely different conversation this week. Fair or not, Medley has been far from automatic this year, and if Arkansas plays as advertised, the Vols will need him to do his best Al Del Greco impersonation.