Vols hit bottom

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Following back-to-back 31-point losses to LSU (38-7) and Alabama (37-6) in October, many Tennessee football fans took comfort in the idea that "At least things can't get any worse."

They were wrong. Saturday night's 49-7 loss at Arkansas was worse. Much worse. To put things in a barnyard perspective, the hosts played like Hogs and the visiting Vols played like slop.

The Big Orange gave such a token effort for much of the second half that the players might as well have boarded the charter plane and headed back to Knoxville moments after freshman quarterback Justin Worley threw a goal-line interception to foil a drive that could've narrowed the gap to 21-14 at halftime.

Still, Tennessee had another chance to get back in the game early in the third quarter. A 48-yard hookup between Worley and Da' Rick Rogers helped the Vols advance to the Razorbacks' 39-yard line. The next three plays would turn the game for good, however.

The first was a 10-yard holding call against tight end Mychal Rivera. The second was a sack/fumble that cost another 11 yards. The third was a 12-yard punt by Michael Palardy that gave Arkansas the ball at its 48-yard line. The Hogs needed just five plays to score, bumping the lead to 28-7 and turning a reasonably competitive game into a rout.

Arkansas went up 35-7 on its next possession thanks to a one-play drive -- Tyler Wilson throwing a 40-yard pass to Joe Adams. The Hogs then closed the scoring with fourth-quarter TD drives of three plays and five plays.

The most difficult aspect of this game for Tennessee fans will be finding a bright spot. Arkansas gashed the Vols' defense for a 71-yard touchdown run and a 40-yard touchdown pass among its five scoring drives of five plays or less. Ultimately, the only thing Tennessee stopped on this night was Tennessee.

The Vol offense derailed its first possession when a fake field-goal failed on fourth-and-12 at the Arkansas 24-yard line. After four consecutive three-and-outs, the Vols scored on their sixth possession to whittle a 21-0 deficit to 21-7 and provide a glimmer of hope. But possession No. 7 ended when Worley, throwing off his back foot under duress, was picked off on third-and-goal at the 5-yard line.

The holding penalty and sack combined to sabotage Tennessee's first possession of the second half, and the next two possessions ended when fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-2 pass attempts failed. (Teams with capable rushing attacks run the ball in these situations but, as fans are acutely aware, Tennessee's rushing attack is several notches below capable.) A personal-foul penalty against freshman tailback Marlin Lane foiled the next possession. Of course, the deficit was 35-7 by then, so the rookie's impulsive act wasn't exactly critical.

As miserably as the Vols' offensive and defensive units played, they still managed to outshine the special-teams unit. Eight Tennessee coverage men got a shot at Joe Adams but failed to stop him on a 60-yard punt return for touchdown. Apparently fearful of outkicking their coverage, Matt Darr and Palardy combined to average just 34 yards per punt ... without the excuse of attempting any pooch punts.

In short, the Arkansas game was a total meltdown for the Big Orange, especially in the second half. The Razorbacks outgained Tennessee 289-169 in yards and outscored the Vols 28-0 over the final two quarters of what surely qualifies as a debacle.

The more resilient Big Orange fans will bemoan Tennessee's woeful performance for a day or so, then start looking for a silver lining. They needn't comfort themselves by thinking, "At least things can't get any worse."

After all, Vanderbilt's coming to Neyland Stadium on Saturday night.


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