More than neighboring state bragging rights are up for grabs come Saturday with the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-5, 0-4 SEC) head to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (2-6, 0-4). SEC fans split between the East and the West will point to the outcome as which division is the stronger of the two with both squads seeking their first conference win of the 2018 season.
The Commodores have been one of college football’s scrappiest teams this season going down to the wire against then- No. 8 Notre Dame (22-17), No. 14 Florida (37-27), and No. 14 Kentucky (14-7). Vanderbilt’s road game against the Wildcats last week was a slugfest with the Commodores using their passing game to move the ball while Kentucky utilized the legs of tailback Benny Snell Jr. and quarterback Terry Wilson for the win. The Commodores’ defense held up well against the Wildcats’ rushing attack but still took a battering with 53 rush attempts.
In Week 8, Arkansas left conference action to face Tulsa putting an end to a six-game losing streak. The decisive 23-0 win is just what the Hogs needed before facing a tough Vanderbilt team. The Razorbacks allowed only 260 yards of total offense getting after Tulsa quarterback Seth Boomer for six sacks. With starting quarterback Ty Storey out due to a concussion, the offense was handed over to true freshman Connor Noland. Noland played well hitting 10 of 16 passes for 124 yards with one touchdown and one pick.
Vanderbilt at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Vanderbilt -1
Three Things to Watch
1. Vanderbilt’s ground attack vs. Arkansas’ front seven
Winning games in the SEC usually comes down to the play trenches, which has been a problem for Vanderbilt on offense. The rushing attack for the Commodores is producing 141 yards per game, ranked 98th out of 129 FBS teams. Going into the Kentucky game, Vanderbilt took a hit losing leading rusher Ke’Shawn Vaughn to an undisclosed injury, and he may be out against the Hogs as well. Jamauri Wakefield was the go-to guy for Vanderbilt against the Wildcats toting the pigskin 19 times for 74 yards.
One thing the Arkansas defense has done well this year is stop the run. As a unit, the team is limiting the opposition to 142 yards on average. The Hogs may have the best linebacker duo in the SEC with De’Jon Harris and Dre Greenlaw. Harris is among the most productive in the nation with 82 stops, four behind Vanderbilt’s Jordan Griffin, the conference leader.
2. Arkansas’ secondary vs. Kyle Shurmur
The Hogs enter the game against Vanderbilt banged up in the secondary. The participation of Montaric Brown and Jarques McClellion this week is questionable, potentially leaving a thin part of the roster bare. Vanderbilt does not have a high-flying passing attack, but quarterback Kyle Shurmur is efficient and typically gets the job done. He has thrown for 1,845 yards with 12 touchdowns but has tossed five picks.
Even with Arkansas closing the door on Tulsa’s passing game, allowing only 127 passing yards, it is still statistically one of the worst pass defenses in the nation, giving up 268 yards per game on average, ranked No. 110 in the nation. Whoever wins this battle gains a big advantage.
3. Vanderbilt’s rush defense and Arkansas’ rushing attack
A weakness for Vanderbilt’s defense is stopping the run. The defense is not anchoring down getting rolled for 195 yards a game. But, can Arkansas take advantage? Injuries are catching up to the Hogs in the backfield with returning leading rusher Devwah Whaley out until November after surgery (ankle) and current starting tailback Rakeem Boyd slowed by a back injury.
Boyd missed his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game by a yard against the Golden Hurricane. Chase Hayden contributed 43 yards on the ground off nine carries spelling Boyd. Six Arkansas offensive linemen are out with two others limping into the game, Colton Jackson (back) and Johnny Gibson (knee).
Both teams have glaring weaknesses the other team can exploit and injuries to deal with entering the game. Another commonality: Both teams play hard for their respective coaching staffs and are just 1 yard apart in total defense, 408 (Vanderbilt) to 409 (Arkansas).
Arkansas does get its starting quarterback back, has home field advantage, and comes off a less physically and emotionally draining game. This cross-SEC game has the feel of a wild game. The Hogs extend their all-time record over the Commodores to 7-3.
Prediction: Arkansas 28, Vanderbilt 21
— Ryan Wright is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.