The Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) will welcome the Arkansas Razorbacks (1-3, 0-1 SEC) to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night for what was billed in the preseason as a “must see” game between two potentially undefeated SEC teams on the rise. Presently, you find two teams trying to salvage what is left of their respective seasons following multiple late game collapses and heart breaking defeats. Never the less, the matchup between the Vols and the Hogs still offers plenty of intrigue, and a critical opportunity for one of these teams to get their season heading in a positive direction.
This will be the 18th meeting between Tennessee and Arkansas. The Vols lead the all-time series against the Razorbacks with a 13-4 record. The two teams last met in 2011 with Arkansas dominating Tennessee 49-7 in Fayetteville.
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Arkansas at Tennessee
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Tennessee -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Red Zone Scoring
The biggest issue facing the Razorbacks all season has been their red zone offense. Despite ranking 32nd in total offense nationally with a solid 472 yards per game, Arkansas has struggled mightily to score in the red zone so far this season. The Hogs rank a dismal 119th in the country in red zone offense, failing to put up any points in roughly 33 percent of their visits. On the contrary, Tennessee ranks 12th nationally in red zone efficiency, scoring on 95 percent of its trips inside the 20-yard line.
The good news for Arkansas is that the Tennessee defense has allowed opposing offenses to score on 13 of 15 trips to the red zone thus far. The bad news for Arkansas is that they haven’t fared any better, allowing opposing offenses to score on 12 of 14 trips inside the 20. The Razorbacks must find a way to finish drives and convert them into points inside the red zone if they have any chance of winning.
2. Rushing Attack
It seems fairly obvious that both teams are going to lean heavily on the run game in this match-up and with good reason. Arkansas features a monstrous offensive line, and an All-SEC caliber running back in Alex Collins who has already rushed for 502 yards through four games, ranking him third in the SEC behind Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb. The preseason loss of stud RB Jonathan Williams for the season has undeniably put a dent in the Razorback run game, but it is still the primary strength of their offense, and they will lean heavily on Collins in this matchup. The return of junior FB Kody Walker from injury should help the cause.
You can also expect a heavy dose of the run game from the Vols on Saturday night. Tennessee ranks 18th nationally with 248 rushing yards per game, running the football on 67 percent of their total plays so far this season. The Volunteers utilize a multi-dimensional attack which primarily features sophomore RB Jalen Hurd who ranks sixth in the SEC with 402 rushing yards and 2nd in the SEC with seven rushing TDs. Expect QB Joshua Dobbs to also be heavily involved in the Vols’ rushing attack. Dobbs leads all SEC QBs in rushing with 243 yards. Tennessee also likes to mix in do-it-all change of pace running back Alvin Kamara, in addition to throwing in the occasional sweep by a wide receiver in order to keep defenses off balance.
Tennessee holds a slight advantage in the running game, but Arkansas is much more balanced on offense. Thus, QB Brandon Allen and the Hogs have an edge in the passing game.
Coaching has been a major topic of discussion for both teams so far this season. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and Tennessee head coach Butch Jones have both taken a well-deserved bashing from the media, and fans alike, for their “play not to lose” mentality and poor decision making, that ultimately led to late game melt downs. Butch Jones, who made several questionable decisions and failed to adjust accordingly en route to epic fourth-quarter collapses against both Oklahoma and Florida, has been especially scrutinized of late.
Without a doubt, the game management decisions and strategies employed by each coach will be under a microscope on Saturday night. It is highly probable that coaching, or a lack thereof, will play a role in the outcome of this game.
Both teams should find success in the running game, however, the Volunteers must open up their passing game for this offense to live up to its full potential. Tennessee needs to find a way to get the ball to their highly touted receivers, who have vastly underperformed to date. It is likely that they will take some shots through the air against an Arkansas pass defense that ranks dead last in the SEC, and it is paramount that they find success in doing so.
For Arkansas, they must find a way to score in the red zone. They have proven that they can move the ball on offense, they simply haven’t been able to consistently finish drives that should easily result in points. There may not be a better team in the nation to “finish” against right now than Tennessee.
All in all, this should be a physical battle between two programs desperately trying to make their way back to prominence in the SEC. To this point, both teams have failed to meet their lofty preseason expectations. That being said, both schools are better than their current records would indicate, and Tennessee is literally a couple of plays away from being undefeated.
Prediction: Tennessee 31, Arkansas 28
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.