After a long bye week, the Tennessee Vols are back in action as they face the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday night.
Kickoff between the Vols and Arkansas is at 7:30 p.m. ET on the SEC Network at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. This is the first time Tennessee has faced Arkansas since 2015, when Tennessee lost 24-20. The last time Tennessee played in Fayetteville was in 2011, where the Vols lost 49-7. Tennessee will be looking to get its first win in Fayetteville since 2001.
Tennessee rolls into Fayetteville with a 2-3 record, coming off a 48-17 loss to Alabama back in Oct. 17. Arkansas is also 2-3 this season, coming off a 42-31 loss to Texas A&M. This is Sam Pittman’s first season as head coach for the Razorbacks. Pittman has done a remarkable job so for a program that went winless in conference play for the last two seasons. Pittman’s two wins include a win on the road against then No. 16 Mississippi State and a home win against Ole Miss.
Tennessee looks to end their three-game losing streak on Saturday. Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols have struggled in the last three games, being outscored 126-45 against Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama. Tennessee’s offense has struggled in this stretch, averaging just 15 PPG and 267 yards of total offense. Despite averaging just 155 PYG in this stretch, Pruitt announced on Wednesday that Jarrett Guarantano once again will start at QB.
Before the season started, many people saw this as a guaranteed win for Pruitt and the Vols. However, Pittman got his team playing great football and Pruitt’s last three performances have been uninspiring to say the least. In many ways, this is the most important game in Pruitt’s Tennessee tenure.
This is a must win for Pruitt and Tennessee. If Tennessee can win in convincing fashion, there is hope for the season to be salvaged. However, if Pruitt loses to Arkansas, it’s likely the Vols will go 3-7 and Pruitt will be on the hot seat.
In order for Tennessee to snap their three-game losing streak and avoid disaster, here is what the Vols must do:
Play Calling Must Get Better
One of the biggest takeaways for me from the Alabama game was how predictable the play-calling was from the Vols offense. Seven of the last eight plays in the end of the first quarter were run plays to Ty Chandler and Eric Gray. In fact, Tennessee ran the ball 21 times in the first half against Alabama. Tennessee only threw the ball 12 times in the first half as well.
I will give you a breakdown on Tennessee’s play calls in their first three drives:
First Drive: (1st and 10 – pass, 1st and 10 – run, 2nd and 9 -run, 3rd and 5 -run, punt)
Second Drive: (1st and 10 – run, 2nd and 7 – run, 3rd and 3 – pass, punt)
Third Drive: (1st and 10 – pass, 2nd and 2 -penalty, 2nd and 7 – pass, 1st and 10 – run, 1st and 10 -run, 2nd and 6 – run, 3rd and 5 – run, 1st and 10 – run, 2nd and 8 – pass, 3rd and 8 – run, 1st and 10 – run, 2nd and 8 -penalty, 2nd and 13 – run, 3rd and 8 – penalty, 3rd and 3 – run, field goal)
One of the reasons why Tennessee scored on the third drive was that they continued to use the run game when it was working. There is no need to switch back to the passing game if the run cannot be stopped.
It’s worth noting that all of these passes were short passes that consisted of 8-12 yards. Tennessee threw the deep ball twice the entire game, and both times they were touchdowns. The play-calling come Saturday needs to be more unpredictable. Throw the deep ball on the first play of the game, or do a screen on first down for all I care.
The passing plays need to mixed up, whether if they are screens, short passes, or deep balls. If Jim Chaney and the Vols can mix up the play-calling and catch Arkansas off guard, Tennessee will have a good shot of a win.
Put Pressure On Feleipe Franks
There’s no other way to put this: the defensive line has been awful in the last two games. Alabama QB Mac Jones was able to have a field day two weeks ago, going 25-of-31 for 387 passing yards and a rushing TD.
Tennessee’s defensive line was able to just get only two sacks against the Crimson Tide. Even against Kentucky, the defensive line just picked up two sacks. This needs to change.
Tennessee must find a way to put pressure on Feleipe Franks. The Arkansas QB has been having a decent season so far, throwing for 1,213 yards, 11 TDs and 3 INTs. Franks is a mobile QB who has a great arm who finds his receivers when given time.
Players like Deandre Johnson and Henry To’o To’o must step up and be dominant. To’o To’o has only 10 tackles in the last two games. Johnson has recorded just four tackles in the last two games. Johnson did not record anything against Alabama, with all four tackles coming against Kentucky.
If Tennessee wants to have any shot, they need these two guys to bounce back and have big games.
Offensive Line Must Step Up
If there is anything that has been disappointing so far, it’s the Vols offensive line. Going into the season, this is what was considered to be the Vols’ biggest strength. With Trey Smith, Cade Mays, Wanya Morris, Brandon Kennedy, and Darnell Wright, they should be the best line in the conference.
It has not gone that way for Tennessee recently. In the Vols’ last three games, Tennessee’s OL has allowed seven sacks, 19 TFLs, and five fumbles behind the line of scrimmage. For a line that is filled with All-SEC and All-American guys, this is inexcusable.
Tennessee’s line will be getting plenty of pressure coming from Arkansas’s front-seven. Arkansas will blitz with 7-8 guys throughout the game. But the OLmust find a way to give Guarantano time to throw the ball. Yes, you could argue that it would help if we had a better QB to cover for the problems on the OL. I agree with that argument completely.
But Guarantano is Pruitt’s guy and this is something we have to deal with and accept. If the OL continues their struggles and force Guarantano to run out of the pocket to make plays, this game is going to get ugly quick.