Fayetteville, AR – The eighth-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks have quietly played tremendous football, and they will attempt to earn their ninth victory of the season this weekend over SEC foe Tennessee in Fayetteville.
Tennessee took a much-needed break from conference action last weekend to post a 24-0 victory over Middle Tennessee. That loss halted a four-game skid for the Vols, who are just 4-5 overall. Derek Dooley's group needs two victories in the final three regular season games to earn bowl eligibility, and while Tennessee is clearly an underdog this weekend, the next two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky are winnable.
"It's good to get a win," said Dooley after last week's game. "It's been a long time."
Five consecutive wins have propelled the Razorbacks to an 8-1 record, and they are still in contention for a trip to the SEC title game. It will all come down to the regular season finale against LSU on the road, provided that Arkansas can take care of business this weekend and next against Mississippi State. Bobby Petrino's club handled South Carolina last week by a 44-28 final.
"We were excited for this game," Petrino said after the victory. "We talked to our players about it all week about this is why they came here to play football, to play in games like these. Big games like this don't come around often, and it matures you as a player when you get to play in them."
Tennessee owns a 13-3 series lead over Arkansas, which includes a 34-13 triumph in the most recent meeting back in 2007.
Against Middle Tennessee last week, the Vols posted 411 total yards despite averaging a mere 2.7 yards per rushing attempt. Tauren Poole did get into the end zone twice, but his 20 yards on 11 carries were minuscule. Justin Worley played quite well under center, however, as he completed 23-of-32 passes for 291 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. He threw the ball early and often to Da'Rick Rogers, who made nine catches for 137 yards and a score. Because starter Tyler Bray is expected to miss another game due to injury, Worley figures to be under center again on Saturday.
Overall this season, UT is averaging 22.6 ppg and 338.9 ypg, numbers that won't scare Arkansas or any other team. Poole is gaining just 3.5 yards per rushing attempt, and Worley doesn't pose as great a threat as the talented Bray. Rogers has been the offense's best playmaker this season, as he has turned his 50 catches into 780 yards and seven TDs.
The Vols yielded a mere 230 total yards to Middle Tennessee last week, including just 133 passing yards on 18 completions. Tennessee came up with two interceptions, a fumble recovery and several big stops on third down, all obvious keys to the shutout.
Opponents are scoring 21.2 ppg against UT, which is giving up 343.0 total ypg. The Vols have room for improvement against both the run and the pass, and they have only made a passable amount of impact plays to date. The club lacks a standout pass rusher, as no one on the roster has more than two sacks.
That defense will have its hands full with Arkansas, as the Razorbacks are racking up 37.7 ppg and 450.9 total ypg. They have 37 touchdowns thus far, 20 of which have been of the rushing variety, but there is no doubt that the strength of the offense is the passing game. Tyler Wilson has completed 61.7 percent of his attempts for 2,626 yards and 15 touchdowns with four interceptions. Jarius Wright has made the most of his 48 catches, posting 812 yards and nine touchdowns.
In the win over South Carolina, Arkansas posted 435 total yards, 299 of which came from the arm of Wilson. He tossed a pair of scores, both of which went to Wright who finished with 103 yards on four catches. Joe Adams is a receiver to watch as well, as he posted 63 yards in that game and is a dangerous returner.
Opponents are scoring 23.1 ppg against the Razorbacks, who are yielding 375.1 total ypg. Opposing quarterbacks have as many passing TDs (nine) as INTs against Petrino's club, but there is some room for improvement against the run. Arkansas is yielding 4.6 yards per carry and has surrendered 15 rushing scores.
Stopping the run was the key to the Razorbacks' success last week against South Carolina, as they held the Gamecocks to 79 yards on 33 attempts. The pass defense was stellar as well, as just 128 yards were gained on 16 completions.