Mission Impossible?

Defending the air will be of the utmost importance this weekend as the Big Orange prepare to take on Bobby Petrino and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Sign in or subscribe now to see the latest on Tennessee football.

Tennessee fans who hold their breath each time an opposing quarterback drops back to throw might want to have an oxygen tank handy during Saturday's game at Arkansas. The Razorbacks throw a lot … and they throw better than anyone the Vols have faced in a long, long time.

Here are some numbers to crunch:

Arkansas ranks No. 1 among SEC teams in pass attempts with 346. Tennessee is a distant second with 294.

Arkansas ranks No. 1 among SEC teams in passing yards at 318.7 per game. Georgia is a distant second at 253.2.

Arkansas ranks No. 1 among SEC teams in scoring at 37.7 points per game and No. 1 in total offense at 450.9 yards per game.

Are you impressed yet? OK, here are some more stats:

Arkansas's Tyler Wilson ranks No. 11 nationally and No. 1 in the SEC with 291.8 passing yards per game. Georgia's Aaron Murray is a distant second at 228.9. Wilson has completed 61.7 percent of his throws with 15 touchdowns and a mere 4 interceptions.

Arkansas's Jarius Wright leads the SEC in receptions per game (6.0), receiving yards per game (101.5) and receiving touchdowns (9). He ranks No. 2 in yards per catch (16.9). Teammate Joe Adams is No. 4 among SEC players in receptions per game (4.6) and No. 5 in receiving yards per game (57.3).

Attempting to shut down this aerial circus will be a Tennessee defense that is tied for last place among the 12 SEC teams in sacks (13) and ranks 10th in pass-defense efficiency.

Tennessee defenders aren't calling Saturday's challenge Mission Impossible but they know they're facing a daunting task. In fact, when asked to pinpoint the last foe that approached Arkansas in terms of passing skills, cornerback Eric Gordon's mind flashed back to Game 2 of 2010.

"Oregon was good throwing the ball out of the spread," he said.

Arkansas's success is no surprise. Bobby Petrino teams historically pass the football exceptionally well. Simply put, he is a masterful schemer who throws a lot of wrinkles at opposing defenses.

"They do a lot of stuff," Gordon conceded." You really can't tell what they're doing. They do so many things and they've got so many athletes that you've got to be ready in all phases of defense."

Some folks think Arkansas has the best receiving corps in college football. Gordon is one of those people.

"Hands down," he said. "They've got a great receiving corps, and our DBs are definitely going to have to step up to the challenge. That's extra motivation, though. Going against the top guys in the country is motivation."

Although Arkansas probably leads the NCAA in pass plays of 50 yards or more, Tennessee's head coach notes that many of the Hogs' biggest gains began as short throws.

"It's not all pushing it way down the field," Derek Dooley said. "They throw a lot of shallow crosses (crossing routes), then catch it and run. If we get a little bit out-leveraged in the back end … we're not 100-meter (track) guys back there, so they'll run around us. We've got to keep ‘em in front."

In addition to a strong-armed QB and superior receivers, the Hogs have a quality tight end in Chris Gragg, who is averaging 11.5 yards per catch on 28 receptions, and a productive running back in Dennis Johnson, who averages 6.2 yards per carry.

"They've got so many weapons," Gordon said. "And their quarterback is so good. He's got a big arm and experience. He makes limited mistakes, hasn't thrown many picks. With the receivers he's got, he pretty much just has to get them the ball, but he's looked great back there."

Really, only one team has managed to contain the Razorbacks' aerial attack this fall. Alabama pressured Wilson all game, intercepted him twice and limited him to a season-low 209 passing yards.

"Watching the Alabama game, their defensive line was able to get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and it helped ‘em a lot," Vol nose tackle Daniel Hood said. "That's going to be big."

Tennessee defensive tackle Malik Jackson agrees, noting: "I think that's what we're going to do – go out there and play fast, try to hit this quarterback like Alabama did."

Tennessee's patchwork secondary has been burned a lot this season by passers who aren't nearly as talented as Tyler Wilson. Clearly, the defensive backs need some help from the guys upfront this weekend.

"It's a lot on us," Jackson conceded." We always say it starts with the D-line. We've got to go out there and affect the quarterback."

One factor working in Tennessee's favor is the return of freshman linebacker/defensive end Curt Maggitt, who gives the Vols some much-needed speed off the edge in the pass rush. He missed Game 8 versus South Carolina due to injury but played in Game 9 versus MTSU and should be 100 percent for the Arkansas game.

"We missed Curt," Jackson said. "He's a great addition to our defense. You notice when he's not out there. We're glad to have him back, so we can be a healthy defense and play fast."

Tennessee desperately needs some pass pressure from Maggitt. If Tyler Wilson has plenty of time to throw, he could pick apart Tennessee's secondary.

"Based on the type of quarterback they've got, I definitely feel like we've got to come out in our A-game on defense," Gordon said. "I feel like it's going to be an exciting game."

Especially for those Tennessee fans who hold their breath each time an opposing quarterback drops back to throw.

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