State of the Hogs: Keys to Victory for Arkansas vs. Tennessee

Arkansas travels to Tennessee on Saturday. Hawgs Illustrated publisher Clay Henry gives you his keys to victory for the SEC matchup.

Joe Kines is the only Arkansas coach with a victory at Tennessee. Kines was the interim head coach for the Razorbacks when they beat the No. 4 Vols, 25-24, in Knoxville with freshman Barry Lunney making his first start at quarterback.

The 72-year-old retired defensive wizard is famous for the way he motivated players with passionate pre-game speeches. He was asked to deliver just that by someone during his closing remarks Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club.

Kines, with a wireless microphone, jumped off the podium and began to walk into the crowd. He’d put his hand on someone’s back or chest. He was feeling for a heart beat.

“If you hear a snare drum beat, they aren’t ready,” he said. “But if it’s a bass drum, they are ready to take the field. That’s how I did it, while I talked. You found out if the team was ready, one by one. You wanted it dead quiet.”

That’s how it was at Tennessee for that pre-game in 1992 before the big upset.

“What I will tell you is the same thing I tell the players, don’t forgot who you are,” he said, noting Arkansas is a great place with a great tradition. “This is a great place. I do know that good things come out of bad sometimes.”

Kines, in his deep baritone, said Arkansas can win at Tennessee, the favorite by 6 ½ points.

“You don’t have to even be the best team,” he said. “You just have to be able to handle the time slot between the pre-game meal and the end of the game. The best team sometimes messes it up.”

Interestingly, when Kines was done he was asked, “Can you go with our team Saturday?”

Kines said there is no secret to winning football. A lot is put on coaching, but he downplayed the Xs and Os.

“It’s about players,” he said. “Bet on good people in recruiting. Recruiting always fascinated me. You go in a home and if there are good people there — the mom, dad, brothers and sisters — bet on them. If not, be careful.”

“And, it’s about blocking and tackling. The team that blocks and tackles will win.”

We’ll start there with this week’s keys to victory for the Razorbacks, riding a three-game losing streak. Both teams have blown chances at victories in two big games this year with critical mistakes late in the game. Tenneessee, 2-2, blew leads against Oklahoma and Florida. Arkansas gave up a 21-13 lead in the closing minutes against Texas A&M, then lost in overtime.

“The game doesn’t change,” he said. “It’s going to be the team that gets off blocks and makes the tackle.”

And, both teams emphasize the run and look for play-action passes. Of Tennessee’s 311 plays this season, 209 are runs. Conversely, Arkansas has 269 offensive plays, 150 rushes.

So it reasons, the team which can stop the run has the best chance to win the game, set for 6 p.m. Saturday night.

“We know what we have to do, stop the running game, and put Josh Dobbs in passing situations,” UA defensive end Tevin Beanum said. “The want to run the ball, with him and Jalen Hurd. They are both good runners.”

Linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said, “Hurd is a big, good looking joker. So you have to stop him. And, they are going to put the ball in Dobbs’ hands on called quarterback runs. He’s dangerous so we know they are going to have a lot of designed quarterback runs.”

The Hogs will go with less nickel and dime packages on defense the past two weeks when they played spread teams. The Vols utilize a tight end and that may bring Josh Williams back into the picture. He’s been bothered by a leg injury the last two weeks, but probably wouldn’t have played much anyway in the packages the Hogs used against Texas Tech and Texas A&M.

“Josh is back to feeling healthy,” Hargreaves said of Williams, the strongside linebacker. “He’ll be part of the plan. We will mix some base and some nickel, trying to keep them off balance.”

Linebacker play will be critical this week. Brooks Ellis, Dre Greenlaw and Williams will have to stop Hurd, a 240-pound downhill bruiser. It’s not something they’ve faced this season and is a changeup to the last few weeks when it’s been about chasing speed backs in counters and screens.

Dobbs is a load, too. He’s 6-3, 216 and will charge up the middle following a pulling tight end and tackle through the A gap. It might be a big day for Ellis back to middle linebacker. In short, I think this is a better matchup for the Arkansas defense than the last two weeks against quick spread teams.

Arkansas should be able to run the ball and that should free up wide receiver Drew Morgan when Brandon Allen looks to throw in play action. Morgan leads the Hogs with 18 catches. He was dangerous for much of the game against the Aggies. He might get more help this week from speedster Dominique Reed, perhaps down the field. Reed was used only for two short completions last week.

Keys to Victory

1, Linebacker Play – Both teams run the ball. It’s a good bet that Ellis and Greenlaw will be the top tacklers for the Hogs. The Vols have a good one at middle linebacker, too. Jalen Reeves-Maybin has 41 tackles through four games. He had 15 against Oklahoma. The Hogs were successful running in the A gap last week and will surely test Reeves-Maybin.

2, Alignment – That was the critical area at the end of the Texas A&M game. Two freshmen, Santos Ramirez and Dre Greenlaw, got their wires crossed on who should cover Josh Reynolds, the speedy A&M wideout. Greenlaw stopped because he thought he had help. There should have been a switch in the pre-snap checks with the defense, but they didn’t get communicated or heard. It’s about the details, secondary coach Clay Jennings said this week. He said it’s “like dating, in the early stages of the process, you have to be real careful to dot all the Is and cross all the Ts, then deeper in the process you can take some of those things for granted. We had a couple of young players out there on the same side and they didn’t get the details right. We just have to keep going over those things.”

3, The Finish – No one knows things can go wrong at the end of the game more than the Hogs and the Vols. Both have blown leads. Both teams had high expectations coming into the season, but those critical missed opportunities or busted defensive plays in the final minutes are close to dooming a season. If one of those teams doesn’t finish this week, does it finish off the season? No one is saying that for sure, but it’s sure been hinted. The fourth quarter has been the focal point of the Arkansas coaching staff in the offseason. It has been analyzed and worked on in practice with several different mental techniques. Now, it's time for all of that to pay some dividends. Brandon Allen has not made some of the plays needed at the finish, but neither have the UA cornerbacks, in particular the two-point play and the overtime touchdown by the Aggies last week. Who can finish?

4, Penalties – Arkansas was among the SEC’s least penalized teams in Bret Bielema’s first two seasons at Arkansas. The Hogs are among the nation’s most penalized team now. Plus, their opponent has hardly seen a flag. Arkansas has been called for 31 penalties in the 1-3 start. That’s 289 yards. That’s 29 first downs worth of yards. Tennessee has been flagged 21 times for 166 yards. Rohan Gaines said Bielema has been “very vocal” about the penalties this week, but it’s been a point of emphasis all season. Gaines said, “That’s one of our edges, don’t beat yourself. We have done that so far this season. We know it’s critical that we correct that. Everything has been called in practice, everything close to a penalty. We are trying to wipe them out. We know we must.”

5, Atmosphere – The Vols will have around 102,000 in Neyland Stadium for the game. The Hogs have worked with Rocky Top blaring through loud speakers throughout the practices this week. Perhaps noise was a factor in some of the penalties last week so line coach Sam Pittman said the Hogs have worked hard on silent communication for their snap count this week, thinking that might have been an issue in AT&T Stadium where noise seems to grow in end of game situations. Pittman said, “We changed a few things and we’ve worked hard on the communication.” A big start by the Hogs could take the crowd out of the game. That's the key to a road victory, something Bret Bielema hasn't managed at Arkansas.

6, Tight Ends – The Vols have a solid blocking tight end with sophomore Ethan Wolf. He leads the Vols in catches (11) and yards (126). Wolf caught four passes last week. He’s an outstanding pulling blocker on inside counters and traps. The 6-6, 245-pound sophomore wears No. 82 in tribute to Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, a former Vol. The Hogs have two good ones in Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle, but Brandon Allen hasn’t always gotten them the ball when open. Plus, Henry has had a rash of penalties. How these three players perform will be a key to the game.

7, Offensive Line – Tennessee’s O-line is rebuilt with three sophomore starters. There have been pass protection issues over the last two years, although Josh Dobbs can erase them with elusiveness when the pocket collapses. Still, this is a big concern for the Vols. Can the Hogs mount some pressure with ends Tevin Beanum and Jeremiah Ledbetter. On the other side, the UA offensive line, although plagued by holding penalties, has shown some punch the last two weeks with some up-the-field blocking in the run game. The left side has been particularly good with Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola. Kirkland will have to account for UT right end Derek Barnett, third among SEC defensive linemen with 22 tackles.

8, Turnovers – Tennessee is fifth in the nation with fewest turnovers allowed (2) and tops in the SEC in turnover margin at plus 5. The Hogs lost the turnover battle, 2-0, last week. Arkansas is even on turnover margin (5-5) this season. That would suggest a low number of turnovers for two teams that take care of the ball, except the weather forecast is for rain. It may be a wet field, too. It’s may rain for two days leading up to the game based on the hurricane forecast to brush the east coast.

9, Third Down – Arkansas improved on its third down defense last week, allowing A&M just 2 of 9. The Vols are at 42 percent for the season, thanks to the elusive Dobbs. Can the Hogs get off the field as well as they did against the Aggies? One strange stat on the UT sheet is fourth downs allowed. The opposition has converted 9 of 10. That might suggest that the Hogs should gamble a little if third down doesn’t go well.

10, Santos Ramirez – Seldom do I list a redshirt freshman safety as the key to a game, but this may be a week that Santos Ramirez breaks out. He’s a vicious hitter. He’s going to get some chances at Josh Dobbs in the open field. He loves physical contact and is excited about this game. Ramirez looks like some of the great Arkansas safeties of the past like Ken Hamlin, Kenoy Kennedy and Steve Atwater. He got his first start last week. Maybe his second will be memorable.

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