State of the Hogs: Defense keys Arkansas victory at Tennessee

Bret Bielema wore a black cap for the first time and called on the team to play for Brandon Allen, but it was the defense that slammed the door shut at Tennessee in a 24-20 victory.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Maybe it was the black cap, the first time Bret Bielema wore one in a football game. Maybe it was the challenge the Arkansas coach issued to his team to "win one" for his often criticized quarterback. Maybe it was playing a team that struggles to close out games just as much as Arkansas. Maybe the Razorbacks just finally had enough.

Or, just maybe -- and I'm going with this theory -- Arkansas found its defensive mojo in the locker room in the south end of Neyland Stadium that had been missing since Trey Flowers, Martrell Spaight and Darius Philon departed.

Arkansas allowed just 90 total yards in the second half to end hand Bielema his first road SEC victory in three years at Arkansas, 24-20, Saturday night. It was only the second victory by Arkansas in seven trips to Knoxville.

Arkansas senior quarterback Brandon Allen said he'd like to have some throws back once again, the biggest one a third-down miss that was high in the back of the end zone for an open Hunter Henry with 8:40 left. It resulted in one of two empty trips for the Hogs in the red zone in the second half after marvelous drives.

That one ended when Adam McFain's run on a fake field goal was one yard short on fourth-and-4 at the 11-yard line. An earlier red zone bid failed when Cole Hedlund's 22-yard field goal went into the pile and was blocked on fourth-and-goal at the UT 5-yard line.

The offenses raged in a 17-17 first half. The Vols had the game's only turnover, at the UA 9-yard line. They also had a field goal fail after hitting the left upright.

The second half opened with more offensive dominance when the Hogs rolled 80 yards in 10 plays for what would be the only touchdown of the second half, a 1-yard run by Alex Collins. The Vols replied with Aaron Medley's 45-yard field goal with 6:41 left in the third quarter.

Bulling running back Jalen Hurd had an 11-yard run in that drive to put him near the century mark, but wasn't a factor the rest of the way. The Hogs smashed him and kept quarterback Joshua Dobbs bottled up in the pocket. The Vols made just 41 yards the rest of the way.

Bielema said it was a matter of the lines taking control of the game on both sides of the ball, something that was part of his pre-game speech. Tennessee made just 133 yards rushing, about half of its average. Bielema said defensive coordinator Robb Smith pointed to the run defense in the opening remarks in his pre-game keys to victory.

“We have three keys to victory and one of the first keys was we were going to stop the run by imposing our will, and I think that summed it up big time today," Bielema said. "There was little guys, there was big guys, there was medium guys that were making tackles.

"Obviously, that’s a big running back over there and our guys I think took a quarter to get used to it. We knew at halftime we had to do better on the edges and we did that… We knew if they could run the football, we weren’t going to win the game, so that’s what we talked about all week and thankfully they came through and delivered.”

The 240-pound Hurd finished with 90 yards on 19 carries. But the beasts on the night were Arkansas running backs Alex Collins (27 carries, 154 yards) and Rawleigh Williams (14-100).

"I knew we had to be physical," Bielema said. "They got our defensive backs in some mismatches (with Hurd) in the first half and we had to fix that. But we pride ourselves in being physical and we had to make that show up. It excites me to see what we did in the running game."

Defensive end Tevin Beanum said Hurd was everything expected.

"He was wreaking havoc on our secondary, a big back," Beanum said. "At halftime, our (line) coach told us we had to step up and be the force that we were expected to play like. That's what we did.

"We thought the quarterback would be a bigger runner than he was, but that didn't show up tonight. We kept him where we wanted him."

Knoxville had been hit by rain for 48 hours, but a light mist ended around game time. Bielema, a visor guy, grabbed a black ball cap from Mark Taurisani just before the game.

"Mark and I have been around each other a long time," Bielema said. "I've never worn a cap. I did save it. I will also say I have on red socks."

Bielema's wife, Jen, mentioned the cap when she came into the interview room. She didn't know her husband owned a cap.

"I think I'll get one, too, and I'm going to tell him to sleep with it," Jen said. "Me, too."

Bielema focused on the mental state of Allen. There's been much fan criticism of Allen during a three-game losing streak. Allen took the blame for last week's overtime loss against Texas A&M. Bielema met with Allen on Thursday to "see where his head was," then called him up in front of the team on Saturday morning.

Allen killed the critical final seconds on a quarterback run -- away from the line of scrimmage -- to end the game to set up a 40-second run off. Bielema said Allen was told to use up five seconds.

"That was about the longest five seconds I have seen, before his hook slide," Bielema said. "I'm so proud of him. There has been so much criticism of him by everyone, including a couple of you guys (in the media). He does get a lot of blame. The quarterback gets too much credit and too much blame.

"I had him stand up in front of the team and called him out with two others. I had three guys stand up for what make them what they are ... what they stand for. He said he is so tough because of his mother and father. I just said, let's get one for our quarterback and I think we did."

Wide receiver Drew Morgan, also called to speak to his teammates, said there was little doubt that the team played for Allen. The third was offensive guard Sebastian Tretola.

"I thought about him on every route, every play," Morgan said. "I have things written on my wrists. I play for the guys who have been injured -- Jonathan Williams, Keon Hatcher, Cody Hollister and Jared Cornelius -- and tonight I put Brandon's name on my wrists, too, along with a Bible verse.

"I personally played for Brandon. I put Brandon's names in big letters."

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