Ranked Battle; #13 Tennessee Takes on #11 Arkansas
The 11th-ranked Razorbacks look to take another step toward a spot in the SEC title game when they host No. 13 Tennessee on Saturday.
Arkansas (8-1, 5-0) is the only SEC team without a conference loss and is on top of the league’s West Division.
With victories in two of their last three contests – including matchups at Mississippi State and at home against No. 12 LSU – the Razorbacks will wrap up a trip to the SEC championship game and face Florida.
The sixth-ranked Gators clinched the East last weekend when they won at Vanderbilt and Tennessee (7-3, 3-2) lost 28-24 to LSU at home.
Arkansas, coming off consecutive losing seasons, hasn’t received much attention nationally as other teams in the conference despite all its success. One-loss Auburn has been mentioned as a candidate to play for the national championship despite falling 27-10 to the Razorbacks on Oct. 7.
“We’re on an eight-game roll. We’re undefeated in the best conference in the country. I don’t know why we aren’t getting any respect,” defensive lineman Keith Jackson said.
Arkansas’ only loss came in its season opener on Sept. 2, when it fell 50-14 to seventh-ranked Southern California. The Razorbacks’ winning streak is their longest since 1998, when coach Houston Nutt started his Arkansas tenure with eight straight victories.
The Razorbacks also started the ’98 season with five consecutive conference victories, but both winning streaks ended with a loss at Tennessee. Arkansas has not won nine in a row since a 10-game run in 1988.
This season, the Razorbacks have relied on a rushing game that ranks fourth in the nation with 238.9 yards per game. Darren McFadden is averaging 115.3 rushing yards a contest, almost 30 more than anyone else in the conference.
McFadden ran for a career-best 219 yards in Arkansas’ 26-20 victory at South Carolina last Saturday. He suffered an injury to his ankle and shin late in the game, but should be ready for this game.
“I’m doing all right. I’m pretty good,” McFadden said. “I think I’ll be just fine.”
Last week’s win did produce a quarterback controversy, as Nutt pulled freshman Mitch Mustain after he threw an interception on the first series and replaced him with Casey Dick, who finished with 228 passing yards – the most by a Razorback since 2004.
Nutt named Dick his starter for this weekend’s game on Sunday. Dick started the last four games as a freshman last season, but had back problems coming into this year and gave way to Robert Johnson in the season opener. Mustain has started every game since.
“It’s one word; it’s experience,” Nutt said of his decision to go with Dick. “That’s all it is. Both these guys will continue to get reps. We will go with Casey as a starter (against Tennessee) but we need both of them.”
The Volunteers also have questions at quarterback after their loss to LSU. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton entered the game after the first quarter when Eric Ainge, who sprained his right ankle at South Carolina on Oct. 28, tweaked his left ankle.
Crompton threw for 183 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on 11-of-24 passing, and gave the Vols a 24-21 lead with 7:29 remaining on a 54-yard TD pass to Robert Meachem. LSU, though, scored the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left.
“He certainly showed a lot of toughness and aggressiveness and effort,” coach Phillip Fulmer said. “Typical of a young guy that was getting a multitude of coverages and things, there were some things he certainly could have done better. With time and work and continued progress he’ll do those things better.”
Fulmer is waiting to see how Ainge looks this week before deciding who to start against the Razorbacks.
Saturday’s loss knocked Tennessee out of the SEC title race and out of legitimate contention for a BCS bowl game. But after going through a disappointing 5-6 season last year, the Vols can still earn a berth in a top-tier bowl.
“It’s real hard going out there practicing knowing we can’t play for the national championship or games like that,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said. “But we’re doing way better than last year and basically we’re playing to set the table for next year. We feel like if we win these next three games we’ll be at a good bowl and we’ll carry on from there.”
Starting running back Arian Foster, safety Antonio Wardlow and fullback David Holbert were charged with disorderly conduct and underage consumption at a nightclub just hours after last Saturday’s defeat. Wardlow was also charged with public intoxication.
Fulmer suspended Foster for the first half of this week’s game, Holbert for the entire game and Wardlow for two games. The Vols had four players arrested this summer and another player was dismissed from the team after he made an inappropriate comment to a woman and her daughter at a restaurant.
Tennessee is 12-2 against Arkansas and has won three straight in the series. The teams last met in 2002, when the Vols won 41-38 in six overtimes.
by: Anthony White – theSpread.com – Email Us
More NCAA College Football Coverage from theSpread.com
– NCAA College Football public betting chart
– NCAA College Football teams
– NCAA College Football standings
– NCAA College Football schedule
– NCAA College Football scoreboard
– NCAA College Football injuries
– NCAA College Football matchups
– NCAA College Football stats
– NCAA College Football odds
– NCAA College Football news wire
– NCAA College Football top stories
– AccuScore NCAA College Football predictions
– Expert NCAA College Football picks
– NCAA College Football trends
– Comments and discussion
– Signup for theSpread.com daily newsletter
– NCAA College Football Home