KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Arkansas and Tennessee both believe they’re close to turning the corner.
They’re about to discover which is closer.
Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 SEC) seeks to snap a three-game losing streak while Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) attempts to get back over .500 when these two former Top 25 teams meet Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
”What I think keeps our guys going forward is they know they’re getting better,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. ”They know they’re very close.”
Both teams have been hurt by struggles in close games and an inability to finish.
”A close loss is definitely a more emotional loss, but at least it shows you’re right there and that a couple of changes here and there are the difference in the game,” Tennessee safety Brian Randolph said.
Arkansas led Texas A&M 21-13 with three minutes left in regulation last week before falling 28-21 in overtime.
Tennessee is coming off a 28-27 loss to Florida in which the Gators scored 14 straight points in the game’s final five minutes. Two weeks earlier, the Vols fell 31-24 in overtime to Oklahoma after leading 17-0 early and 24-10 in the fourth quarter.
”Yeah, there are similarities,” Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen said. ”They’ve had a couple of fourth-quarter losses as well. So, if anything, they know it’s tough. We know it’s tough when you can’t close out games.”
Neither team expected to be in this position at this point in the season. Arkansas was 18th and Tennessee No. 25 in the preseason Top 25.
Each remains hopeful
Bielema said he was encouraged with the way his team performed last week against the 14th-ranked Aggies. Tennessee coach Butch Jones points out that his team is only a couple of plays away from being undefeated.
Preseason goals remain attainable for both teams. They just can’t afford another loss.
”The season’s not over,” Tennessee offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. ”We only have one SEC loss, so there’s still a chance for us to be able to get to Atlanta and get into a really good bowl game. That’s what we’re working toward.”
Here are some things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts Arkansas.
TIGHT ENDS: Both offenses rely heavily on their tight ends. Arkansas has a likely early draft pick at that position in junior Hunter Henry, who has caught 17 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown. Tennessee’s Ethan Wolf leads the Vols in catches (11) and yards receiving (126) and is tied for the team lead in touchdown catches (2).
DUEL OF RUNNING BACKS: This game features two potent running backs in Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd. Collins has run for 502 yards and has exceeded 150 yards in each of Arkansas’ last two games. Hurd has rushed for 402 yards and has reached the 100-yard mark in three of his four games. They share the SEC lead in total carries with 86.
ARKANSAS’ PENALTY PROBLEMS: Arkansas has the SEC’s second-highest average of penalties per game (7.8) and penalty yards per game (72.3). The Razorbacks had 11 penalties for 93 yards against Texas A&M last week. By contrast, Tennessee has been penalized just 5.3 times for 40 yards per game.
KICKING CONCERNS: Both teams have reason to feel nervous if this game comes down to a late field-goal attempt. Arkansas’ Cole Hedlund is 4 of 6 on field goals this season, but he’s missed his only two attempts from beyond 27 yards. Tennessee’s Aaron Medley is 6 of 10 overall but 0 of 3 from beyond 37 yards.
VOLS’ WOES AGAINST WEST: Tennessee has lost eight straight games against SEC West teams since beating Ole Miss 52-14 in 2010. That stretch includes a 49-7 loss at Arkansas in 2011. This will be the first time Tennessee has faced an unranked SEC West team since that 2010 victory over Ole Miss.
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Arkansas contributed to this story.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org.