Tennessee came into this road game against Arkansas with a plan to run the football. For two quarters of football, they succeeded with their gameplan.
The Vols were hell-bent on rushing the football against the Razorbacks while also eating up the clock. The offensive line was healthy, and the running backs were ready to go. Thirty minutes into the game, things were going their way. Not many passes, but a lot of rushes.
The Vols were missing Alontae Taylor and Shawn Shamburger. Both players didn’t travel. Taylor was dealing with a hamstring issue, and Shamburger wasn’t hurt, according to Jeremy Pruitt.
Tennessee rushed for 135 yards in the 1st half, with Jarrett Guarantano only attempting eight passes. It was actually working, especially with the time of possession. Guarantano had only 42 yards passing in the first half, but they didn’t need him through the air. He was actually helping in the ground game as well, pulling off a few long runs.
This was the plan that continued to work, thanks in part to Eric Gray. The sophomore rushed for 89 yards on 19 attempts in the 1st half. The Vols averaged 4.5 yards rushing in the half, giving them multiple scoring chances.
This was exactly what Tennessee needed: a clean half of football. Brent Cimaglia nailed two field goals from 48 and 50 yards, and he Vols led 13-0 at halftime.
The Vols were bending but not breaking on defense. They held Feleipe Franks to 37 yards passing on 10 attempts. The Razorbacks did rush for 116 yards in the half but were never able to find pay dirt.
In other words, Tennessee was doing their job and executing the plan. The Vols didn’t give Arkansas many chances at success. But unfortunately, the Vols had another 30 minutes to play.
In an all too familiar fashion, Tennessee mentally looked like they never left the locker room, coming out of halftime. Arkansas took the opening kickoff and never looked back. Franks and the Razorbacks came out firing. The Hogs drove the field on a 17-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown. Arkansas had cut the Tennessee lead down to 13-7 at the 9:46 mark of the third quarter.
The Vols responded with a three and out, which at the time had Tennessee fans starting to worry about the previous 2nd half performances.
Adding to the problems with the Tennessee defense, LaTrell Bumphus was in street clothes on the sideline. The SEC Network didn’t specify what kind of injury it was.
Tennessee’s defense has had problems covering the slant all season up to this point, and it didn’t get any better in Fayetteville. During the first touchdown drive for the Hogs, Franks connected on three different routes across the middle, including the touchdown.
The problems continued for the Vols. Franks hit Mike Woods on a 56-yard play that gave the Razorbacks a first-and-goal at the 6. On the ensuing play, Franks found Blake Kern over the middle for a Touchdown. The Hogs were rolling, and Tennessee was backpedaling.
On the previous drive for Tennessee, Guarantano was scrambling on a play and ended up flying through the air and landing on his head. It wasn’t apparent at the time that he was injured, but as the Vols took the field on their next possession, Brian Maurer was in at QB.
Jim Chaney called three straight run plays for the offense, forcing them to punt again. This was not the time of game for Tennessee to be punting back so quickly. The Vols needed to muster something, anything time consuming.
If you wanted to see a complete lack of game awareness, that was the moment. Yes, you ran the ball in the first half, but the offense was stalling, and you needed a spark. Running the ball three straight times was like throwing water on a fire. It was almost out.
Arkansas started their third drive of the quarter with 4:22 remaining. The Vols were against the ropes, needing a stop. Trelon Smith started the drive with a 22-yard sprint to the 41. The next play seemed to be the dagger.
Franks hit Treylon Burks for a 59-yard touchdown pass. Things continued to go from bad to worse for the Vols defense. Two plays and 81 yards later, the Razorbacks were leading 21-13, and it felt like Tennessee was in quicksand.
This was a Tennessee team that again seemed like they left their mindset in the locker room. Absolutely nothing was clicking with this team. It honestly wouldn’t have mattered who was playing QB in the 2nd half if they weren’t going to sling it. They got away from the gameplan, and then the game got away from them.
Arkansas knocked in a 48-yard field goal with 07 left on the clock in the third quarter. In the blink of an eye, the Razorbacks went on a 24-0 run. It was like Tennessee didn’t know what hit them, again.
Franks and the Hogs offense had out-gained Tennessee 257-16 in the 3rd quarter. They also went 6-7 on third downs and kept the Vols on the field.
This isn’t unfamiliar for Tennessee; they’ve been horrid in the 2nd half of the last four games. The Vols have been outscored 88-7 in the second half of the previous sixteen quarters. You won’t win a single game with stats like this, which is one of the main reasons this team is on a four-game skid.
Yes, Pruitt put in Harrison Bailey in the 4th quarter, but it honestly didn’t matter at that point. Yes, the Vols had a shot to cut it to a one possession game with 4:32 remaining. But you would’ve thought it was already over if you noticed the play-calling.
Tennessee had it 4th-and-4 on the Arkansas 28, a chance to kick a field goal and get it within eight points. But, Pruitt decided to go for it, hoping to spring a touchdown. This is the type of situation that makes you scratch your head. Cimaglia had already made two kicks from 48 and 50 on the night. So why not try one from 45 yards out? Pruitt had an answer.
“We knew we needed two scores. It was 4th-and-4 there. I know Cimaglia had made a couple there, but he was a game-time decision. Felt like that was best at the time.”
That was it. Bailey was intercepted on the play, and Tennessee was done for the night.
This was another game the Vols should’ve won. They had more talent across the board, but don’t tell Arkansas that. They weren’t laying down tonight, and Tennessee didn’t take advantage of a pretty good first half. These situations are starting to add up and not in a good way.
The fact you don’t have a reliable backup quarterback ready to go after two years with them is a stain on the coaching staff. They’ve had Maurer and JT Shrout for over 24 months. But tonight, one was in the game with no confidence from the staff, and the other was in Knoxville watching it on TV.
The Vols have a lot of problems right now, and the QB stands out because that’s college football. But, if the Tennessee defense can’t figure out how to be competitive at critical times in the 2nd half of football games, they might win one more game.
“We haven’t played our best. We haven’t coached our best. But, I believe in these guys, and we’ll get it fixed.” Pruitt said during his postgame media session.
We’ve seen this movie numerous times; you’d think it’s time for them to watch it and make a new one. The Vols have a lot of work to edit, with not much time remaining.
All Images courtesy of Tennessee Athletic Communications