Stats indicate role reversal for Tennessee, Arkansas
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The reputations of Arkansas and Tennessee suggest a contrast in styles between the Razorbacks’ smashmouth approach and a school that bills itself as Wide Receiver U.
It hasn’t worked out that way this season.
After four games, Tennessee has more carries and yards rushing than the Razorbacks. Arkansas’ Drew Morgan has twice as many catches and three times as many yards receiving as any of Tennessee’s wideouts.
Those unusual trends may help explain why both teams has failed to live up to expectations after opening the season in the Top 25. Arkansas (1-3, 0-1 SEC) has run the ball more often lately, while Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) wants its receivers more involved.
”I’m sure the receivers are probably a little frustrated,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. ”If I was a receiver, I would be too, because they’re competitors and they want the ball. Everyone wants the ball. That day is coming. We’re going to get the ball to them.”
Arkansas has operated the most run-oriented attack in the Southeastern Conference during Bret Bielema’s three-year coaching tenure, but a foot injury to running back Jonathan Williams has hindered the Razorbacks this year. Arkansas had 53 passes and just 31 carries Sept. 12 in a 16-12 loss to Toledo.
Bielema insisted afterward the Razorbacks would return to their power-running roots. In its last two games, Arkansas has run the ball 85 times with 46 passes. In a 28-21 overtime loss to Texas A&M last week, Arkansas ran the ball on 62.7 percent of its snaps.
”We kind of maintained and continued to build our identity that I think we’ll have to have to win in the SEC, as far as being able to run the football and have some efficiency,” Bielema said.
Arkansas ranks third nationally in time of possession and has punted just seven times, clear evidence that the Razorbacks still like to run the ball. Tennessee coach Butch Jones said he’s reminded his offense that Arkansas’ approach limits the number of drives for each team.
”They have to understand that every possession does count,” Jones said. ”You can’t panic when you’re standing on the sidelines.”
Arkansas has run the ball 55.8 percent of the time, while Tennessee has opted to run on more than two-third of its offensive plays. The Vols average 52.3 carries per game to lead the SEC and rank seventh nationally.
Tennessee’s strategy has worked in some respects. The Vols are averaging 41.3 points per game, and Jalen Hurd has rushed for 402 yards and seven touchdowns already.
But the Vols aren’t utilizing wideouts who arrived on campus amid much acclaim.
Tennessee receivers Josh Malone and Preston Williams were both rated as five-star recruits by at least one service. Marquez North was a heralded recruit who caught at least 30 passes each of his first two seasons at Tennessee. Von Pearson was one of the top junior-college receivers in his class. Yet the Vols don’t have a single wideout with more than nine catches or 98 yards receiving.
For comparison’s sake, Morgan already has 18 catches and 303 yards receiving for Arkansas, which has thrown for 409 more yards than Tennessee. The Vols’ leading receiver is tight end Ethan Wolf with 11 catches for 126 yards.
Injuries have played a role in the lack of production from Tennessee’s wideouts. Injured receiver Alton ”Pig” Howard has played just two games. Jones indicated Wednesday that the status of Howard and North for Saturday’s game was uncertain. Jason Croom hasn’t played all year as he recovers from a knee injury.
”We’ve got to start stepping up as a group and just helping (Hurd and Wolf) out,” Tennessee receiver Josh Smith said. ”We can’t put all the workload on them. It’s our job to get better and start making more plays.”
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Arkansas contributed to this story.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org.