The Tennessee Volunteers and Arkansas Razorbacks will meet in Fayetteville on Saturday night for a cross-conference matchup that features a pair of SEC teams badly in need of a win. It will mark the 19th meeting all-time and the first meeting between the two schools since 2015. Tennessee leads the all-time series 13-5, but Arkansas has come out on top in each of the last two encounters.
Following an impressive 2-0 start to the season, Tennessee has taken a dramatic turn in the wrong direction over its last three games. The Vols have been outscored 109-24 and committed eight turnovers in their last 10 quarters of football alone. They most recently fell victim to rival Alabama by a score of 48-17 to extend their losing streak to three games. Now fresh off an open date, Jeremy Pruitt's Vols (2-3) will look to return to early-season form and secure a much-needed win on the road against the Razorbacks.
A win against Arkansas seemed like a foregone conclusion before the start of this season. But that is no longer the case against a team that has wildly surpassed expectations under first-year head coach Sam Pittman. After going winless in the SEC in 2018 and 2019, the Razorbacks have already secured two conference wins, knocking off both Ole Miss (33-21) and Mississippi State (21-14). And they should probably have a third victory, if not for a controversial finish against Auburn. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room for improvement, as the Razorbacks now sit at 2-3 on the season following last week's 42-31 loss to division foe Texas A&M on the road. The Hogs now return to Fayetteville in search of a bounce-back victory against the slightly favored Volunteers on Saturday night.
Tennessee at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Tennessee -2
When Tennessee Has the Ball
Jarrett Guarantano's performance will go a long way in deciding the Vols' fate against the Razorbacks on Saturday night. But that could go either way for the inconsistent fifth-year senior, who will definitely have his work cut out for him against an Arkansas pass defense that leads the SEC in yards allowed per attempt (6.1). The biggest challenge will be limiting mistakes against an opportunistic Razorback defense that has already racked up 10 interceptions in five games (second in FBS).
Guarantano's numbers aren't terrible on paper — 62 percent completion rate, 914 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. However, they fail to paint a complete picture for a Tennessee passing game that has vastly underachieved to this point. That's particularly true in critical down-and-distance situations, where the Vols are converting an SEC-worst 26 percent on third downs. Guarantano also has struggled to identify a consistent target outside of leading receiver Josh Palmer (19 receptions, 295 yards, 4 touchdowns). That being said, freshman speedster Jalin Hyatt has flashed big-time potential as a player that can be a difference-maker in that regard for the Vols moving forward.
Tennessee's best chance for success on offense will come on the ground against a fairly generous Arkansas run defense that is giving up 178 rushing yards per game (12th in the SEC). Running backs Eric Gray (79 attempts, 355 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Ty Chandler (62, 275, 2) will lead that effort behind a star-studded Tennessee offensive line that hasn’t really lived up to its lofty preseason billing but is more than capable of providing running room against a soft Arkansas defensive front. In order for Tennessee to take full advantage of this favorable matchup on the ground, it will require a little help from the passing game to loosen up the Arkansas defense.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
The passing game will be the Razorbacks' most likely path for success on offense against the Vols. Tennessee ranks 11th in the SEC in terms of yards allowed per attempt at 8.4. And opposing quarterbacks have had a field day picking apart the Tennessee defense through the air in the middle of the field. Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks will try to follow suit in a bid to exploit that weakness on Saturday night. Franks gave the Tennessee defense fits during his time at Florida, and he has looked even better in his first five starts as a Razorback, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,213 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Treylon Burks (26 receptions, 366 yards, 4 touchdowns) headlines a solid group of Arkansas receivers. Pass protection has been a concern for an Arkansas offensive line that has allowed 15 sacks. And Tennessee does have a dangerous pass rusher in Deandre Johnson (3.5 sacks). However, the Vols’ pass rush has been lackluster of late, and Johnson has not recorded a sack since week two against Missouri.
While the Razorbacks have struggled to run the football this season, averaging just 126 yards per game (11th in the SEC), their ground game is starting to emerge. The Razorbacks ran for a season-high 222 yards last week against a stout Texas A&M run defense. Running back Rakeem Boyd looked to be back to 2019 form against the Aggies, rushing for 100 yards and a score on 18 carries, while Franks chipped in with 91 yards on the ground. Trelon Smith added 30 yards and remains the Razorbacks'’ leading rusher with 251 for the season. Arkansas will be paired against a Tennessee run defense that has allowed 154 rushing yards per game (ninth in the SEC) but is giving up just 3.7 yards per carry (fourth).
The Volunteers are fresh off a bye, and their edge in overall talent should be enough to come out on top if they can keep mistakes and turnovers to a minimum. However, that might be a tall order for a Tennessee team that has been steadily trending in the wrong direction. And an extra week of rest and preparation may not be enough to correct the long list of issues that have plagued the Vols over their last three games.
Meanwhile, Arkansas has been the most improved team in the SEC this season. The Razorbacks are from perfect and have plenty of issues of their own. But they have done a better job of passing the eye test to this point in the season, particularly when it comes to the all-important quarterback position. Despite Tennessee's overall talent advantage, it's hard to like the Vols' chances on the road in this matchup. Hogs come away with a hard-fought victory in Fayetteville.
Prediction: Arkansas 28, Tennessee 24
Podcast: Week 10 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.