The Arkansas Razorbacks have climbed to the eighth spot in the most recent AP poll, and they have an outstanding opportunity to earn their seventh victory of the season this weekend against SEC foe Vanderbilt.
The Razorbacks are 6-1, marking their best start under head coach Bobby Petrino. They have won four straight games against opponents from the SEC's Eastern Division, the longest winning streak against Eastern Division foes in school history. Last weekend, Arkansas posted its third straight win, a 29-24 decision over Ole Miss.
"I think our team really showed a lot of heart, a lot of character and a lot of toughness," said Petrino, who watched his team fall behind 17-0 before storming back to beat the Rebels.
As for Vanderbilt, it owns a 4-3 record under first-year head coach James Franklin, doubling the victory total of last season's two-win team. The Commodores managed to halt a three-game slide last weekend with a 44-21 romp over non-conference foe Army, but they are still just 1-3 in SEC play.
"A lot of teams, when you lose three straight, you're going to have a hard time bouncing back," said Franklin. "It shows the character of our team. We're going to keep fighting and competing."
Arkansas owns a 6-2 series advantage over Vanderbilt, which includes a 49-14 romp over the Commodores last season.
Petrino's Razorbacks have had little trouble moving the ball and scoring points this season, as they are averaging 37.7 ppg and 462.1 total ypg. They have 31 offensive touchdowns to their credit, 17 of which have come via the rush. Rather than rely on one player to carry the load on the ground, several guys have contributed to the rushing attack. As for the passing game, QB Tyler Wilson has been superb, completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,011 yards and 12 touchdowns against only three interceptions. Jarius Wright paces the receivers with 34 catches for 574 yards and six scores, while Joe Adams is a big-play threat as well.
Arkansas was held scoreless by Ole Miss last week until tailback Dennis Johnson ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run with just over five minutes remaining in the first half. In the second stanza, Wilson had a pair of one- yard TD runs, and Arkansas made just enough plays to win the game.
"We have confidence in each other and make sure the guy next to us is doing the right thing and that you are doing the right thing," said Adams after the victory.
Opponents are posting 21.7 ppg against Arkansas, which is yielding 386.7 total ypg. The Razorbacks certainly have room for improvement against the run, as they are permitting 183.3 ypg at a clip of 4.8 ypc. The pass defense is mediocre, and with just nine sacks and eight total takeaways thus far, Arkansas hasn't exactly made an abundance of big plays. Jerry Franklin continues to pace the unit with 58 total tackles, including seven TFL.
Give the Razorbacks credit for limiting Ole Miss to 4-of-13 success on third- down conversion attempts last week. Arkansas did yield three touchdowns, including a pair of passing scores, but the defense certainly played better down the stretch than it did in the first half.
The Vanderbilt offense hopes to find success against that average Arkansas defense, and the duo of Jordan Rodgers and Zac Stacy will have to lead the way to make that happen. Rodgers, known largely for being the younger brother of Green Bay Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers, made a name for himself last week against Army by running and passing for a touchdown. There is no doubt that there is room for improvement, as Rodgers threw a pair of INTs, but he brought a spark to a normally dull offense. Stacy was downright sensational in the win, as he rushed for a career-high 198 yards and three TDs on 21 carries.
"It's always good to help the team win from a stats standpoint, but whether I have 198 or 34, as long as we get the win that's all that counts," said Stacy.
While the Vanderbilt offense was busy racking up 530 yards last week, the team's defense limited Army to 288 yards. The Black Knights run the ball on almost every play and finished with 270 rushing yards at a clip of 5.3 ypc. To the credit of the Commodores, they permitted just 1-of-6 passes to be completed.
Overall this season, Vandy is scoring 24.9 ppg while allowing 21.6 ppg to opponents. The Commodores are gaining just 300.0 ypg of total offense, but the fact that they yield a modest 323.9 ypg is somewhat comforting. Rodgers has completed a poor 43.6 percent of his passes this season with two touchdowns and five interceptions, but he figures to be under center again this weekend.