Malik Jackson on defense
Sitting his hotel room hours before a game against a ranked opponent, Malik Jackson snuck in a little advance scouting.
The Tennessee defensive tackle wasn't going out of his way to look past South Carolina leading up to kickoff two weeks ago, nor was he trying to look ahead to Arkansas.
But with another lineman with him and the television tuned in on the high-powered passing attack, Jackson saw something that clearly stuck with him when the time arrived to really start preparing for a meeting with the No. 8 Razorbacks and quarterback Tyler Wilson on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 6 p.m.).
"I remember — me and Corey Miller were watching the Arkansas-Vanderbilt game," Jackson said. "(Wilson) got hit a lot in that game."
When the time came to pop in another film of the Razorbacks (8-1, 4-1 SEC) this week to more seriously break them down, Jackson saw the same thing he had previously noted.
Wilson has taken some punishment in the pocket and Arkansas has been susceptible to sacks this season, having allowed 18. But the trick for the Vols (4-5, 0-5) is finding a way to use that pressure to slow down the highest-scoring offense in the conference, which even the teams that have battered Wilson have struggled to actually do.
"It starts with us, just rushing, getting our rush games together and affecting the quarterback and giving some help to the defensive backs there," Jackson said. "Then they've got to cover the receivers to give us some time to work. You know, we've got to work together as a defense. Go out there, come together this week and come out and hit really hard, run around fast and have a good game.
"Watching the film, (Wilson) takes his time and goes through his reads. I don't really see him standing back there with a clock. ... You know, he really goes back there, goes through his progression, looks at the defense, he's a really smart guy and he takes his time with the ball. The longer he holds it, the better it is for us."
The other alternative is forcing Wilson to get the ball out sooner than he'd prefer, collapsing the pocket, getting in his face and making him rush to a decision. If he's allowed to hang in the pocket for an extended period of time, that likely will favor the Razorbacks with their talented group of wide receivers against a UT secondary that continues to tinker with personnel deep into the season.
But whether it's through sticky work from the defensive backs allowing the linemen time to work or a tenacious pass rush that limits the exposure in coverage, the Vols would seem to be better off if the linebackers weren't needed as part of the formula to get after Wilson.
"That will be huge," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. "Any time you can generate a four-man pass rush, that's the best pass defense you've got. I thought our guys over the last couple weeks have gotten better and better and got after the quarterbacks a few times.
"We blitzed some, and we've got to do some things in terms of the pressure game to force the issue on the quarterback. We'll see — this is going to be a great challenge. This is a more talented, sophisticated offense, and it'll be a challenge. We'll see what happens."
Change of Venue: The Vols changed up the practice venue again before hitting the road for a game, working out Thursday morning at Neyland Stadium and cranking up the volume to prepare for the crowd noise at Arkansas.
True freshman quarterback Justin Worley seemed to have some communication issues at times over his first two starts, and both of those came at home. So dealing with the hostile situation and delivering the calls in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage has obviously been a point of emphasis.
"He was a lot better," UT coach Derek Dooley said earlier in the week. "He's going to have to be like a veteran on the road, it's going to be loud, hostile, different guys coming at you, so that's important.
"What happens is, when we're in rhythm, we play well on offense. When we get out of rhythm, that's when things start going bad."
Bumps and Bruises: Starting linebacker Austin Johnson (elbow) was again practicing in a green, non-contact jersey with a brace on his right arm.
Tight end Mychal Rivera (foot) took his green jersey off for the first time this week. Both players are expected to play against the Razorbacks.
Sticking Around: The traveling party will apparently be a little lighter for UT this weekend. The Pride of the Southland Marching Band won't be making the trip.
According to school spokesman Jimmy Stanton, the band was budgeted by the athletic department to appear with the Vols at Razorback Stadium but elected not to travel. He indicated the decision was up to the band program and not made by officials in the athletic department.