John Adams: Arkansas' offense more fun to watch than defend

John Adams

Tennessee has played No. 1 LSU and No. 3 Alabama. It has played three other teams currently ranked in the top 25.

But it hasn't played an offense more capable of exposing its defensive shortcomings than Arkansas.

Even in a 4-5 start, UT's defense has surpassed preseason expectations. Only three of its nine opponents have exceeded their scoring average at UT's expense; in the last two games, it has given up just 14 points.

You will have a better idea of its defensive progress Saturday evening in Fayetteville.

Arkansas leads the SEC in points, yardage and first downs. It has the conference's No. 1 passer in Tyler Wilson and two of its four most productive receivers in Jarius Wright and Joe Adams.

"Statistically speaking, they're the best throwing team in the league," UT coach Derek Dooley said at Monday's media luncheon. "They have a quarterback who has a real playmaking mentality, a little bit like Tyler (Bray) has, and they have a lot of speed.

"It's not just that they run fast. They play fast.

"And they play with a lot of swagger. Every time a team inches close to them, they answer the bell."

Their success stems from more than speed. It's also a testament to the strategical skills of coach Bobby Petrino, who has assembled the SEC's most productive offense despite losing All-SEC running back Knile Davis to a season-ending injury in preseason.

"Every game, he comes up with a play that's like an automatic touchdown," Arkansas wide receiver Jarius Wright said this summer at the SEC Football Media Days. "That gives us a world of confidence."

As Dooley said, you can see it in their play. The Razorbacks play as though they expect to score — a lot.

They have done that consistently since the end of Petrino's first season when his team had all sorts of offensive limitations, especially at quarterback. It didn't score more than

28 points in any of its first nine games and managed just 31 in one three-game stretch.

By the end of a losing season, when the Hogs upset LSU 31-30, you could see the transformation.

The Razorbacks have scored 30 or more points in 27 of their last 36 games despite playing in the best defensive conference in the country.

One of UT's biggest challenges will be pressuring Wilson. Arkansas' inability to slow Alabama's pass rush figured prominently in its only defeat. But at no point in the season has the Vols' pass rush been confused with Alabama's.

Another challenge will be avoiding big plays against a versatile passing attack that spreads the ball around to wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. Sure tackling will be crucial against receivers capable of turning a short pass into a big gain.

Nor can UT ignore the running game, which struggled earlier without Davis but has progressed recently behind Dennis Johnson. He had 86 yards on 15 carries against South Carolina last week after gaining 160 on Ole Miss two weeks earlier.

"Bobby has always done a good job of running the ball," Dooley. "They're the other pro-style team in our league, so we enjoying watching them."

Watching them might be more fun from a distance.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 8

The_Ghost_of_Duke_DeLuca writes:

Fire Phat Phil Fulmer!

VOLliven2it writes:

Arkansas is good. Arkansas is better than we are. But we still play the game and who knows, we may finally wake up, play a whole game and show some big time improvements. I will not be watching to see what Ark does. I am a Volunteer fan and what they do matters to me. But I agree with Adams, Ark is more fun to watch than have to deal with.

arkyvol writes:

i've watched both teams several times this year, arky in person, the vols on the tube. i'm hoping the vols keep it respectable, but one thing bothers me, the vols tend to disappear in the second half, the hogs explode. that's been the story of these teams all year. one other thing, the hogs have a lot more riding on this game. they think they got stiffed by the bcs this week (beat a top ten team and got dropped a spot), so they've got something to prove.

arkyvol writes:

one last thought. when petrino hit town, the talent pool at arkansas was barer than mother hubbard's cupboard. i can't remember a single year in which the hogs signing list has been within ten digits of the vols haul even through now, supposedly a down period for the vols. by the end of his second year petrino had people seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. i wish i had the same feeling with the vols.

snakeplissken writes:

in response to arkyvol:

one last thought. when petrino hit town, the talent pool at arkansas was barer than mother hubbard's cupboard. i can't remember a single year in which the hogs signing list has been within ten digits of the vols haul even through now, supposedly a down period for the vols. by the end of his second year petrino had people seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. i wish i had the same feeling with the vols.

Excellent observations about Petrino's success IN HIS SECOND YEAR! Same thing with Dan Mullen at MSU. Same thing with Chizik at Auburn. Same thing with Saban at Alabama. I could go on on and on about how a team improves in their second year UNDER GOOD COACHING. All of these coaches mentioned above took over programs where the previous coach had been fired because they had allowed the talent pool to evaporate. But all of these coaches got things done, hired a competent coaching staff, recruited well, and demanded improvement rather than looking for excuses like Dooley does.

Can you imagine any of these coaches just sitting back and watching the problems we have with our offensive line 22 games into their careers? Do you think these guys might have yanked a knot in someone's butt after watching their run game average 2.7 yards per carry against a 2-7 Sun belt team who's rush defense was 4th worst in the nation? Yet we have Dooley giving excuses when questioned because he or his staff don't know how to fix it!!!

volfaninbuckeyeland writes:

This one could be real ugly. Without a running game, we are looking at a whole lot of 3 & out situations and incomplete passes result in clock stoppages which simply give Ark more opportunities. Throw in at least 2 turnovers on our part and this one could be decided by halftime. I appreciate so much what these players give of themselves week in and week out, and in spite of the fact that they may not be the most talented group in the SEC, I feel as if they are capable of so much more than what we see on gameday. I just can't help but feel that they are being shortchanged in the maximizing of their abilities and I stated as much after the Mont. game. I am in agreement with the sentiments stated by both Arky & tartar and I do truly believe that some assistant changes will have to be made. M Richt had to make a tough decision in giving his DC, who was also a good friend, his walking papers. This coaching business is a tough gig; it's not for the thin skinned or the faint of heart. Why a man would leave a relatively comfortable and lucrative legal career for a topsy-turvy, Tums devouring life on the college head coaching carousel is a mystery to me.

cloudodust writes:

This is the week for Wilcox to be creative, corner blitzes etc. Plus, here's to hoping we out-think 'em at the half...

ProwlinAndGrowlinSmokeyDog writes:

in response to slaw_way:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I agree about making changes to the offense coaching staff especially Chaney..I had complaints about him last year but decided to give him a chance to see if his play-calling improved,which IMO,it clearly has NOT..If anything, it has gotten worse because he has become more predictable every game..Bray has made him look like a better play caller than he actually is..Hiestand should probably be replaced as well because the offensive line hasn't improved at all in the run blocking..Last year,IMO, the offensive line looked better at run blocking this year and that's why it baffles me as why they are worse this year..You would think that they would look EVEN better this year..Other than those two, the coaching staff should probably stay intact.

Also, agree about Wilcox because I have noticed that he does adapt to the opposition and makes the adjustments needed..It would also help the defense if the offense could produce more than 3 and outs because if they are on the field all the time, then they can't stop anyone..Fatigue sets in and we are not deep enough yet to be sustituting as much as we would like..My biggest complaint for a while was the tackling because the players were not wrapping up or just waiting for the player to come to them..I wish the coaches could go out and tackle for them, but that is just not possible(meant to be a joke)..It is up to the player to carry out the play-call and tackle properly.

Smokey says hopefully the necessary changes will be made..

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