The two teams entered 2015 as their respective division darkhorses and now are trying to settle down after rocky starts. The Razorbacks enter this game 1-3 after finally finding some rhythm in an overtime loss to Texas A&M in Dallas. The Vols are fresh off a disappointing 1-point loss to rival Florida in Gainesville after blowing their second fourth quarter lead in four games. Both desperately need a win Saturday and Tennessee can do just that by controlling three key elements.
1. Linebacker play
This will be the first game this season in which the Vols will be in their base 4-3 defense for a majority of the night. Two of those three starting linebackers could potentially be freshmen in Mike Darrin Kirkland and Sam Austin Smith. These are the kind of games when the absence of hybrid linebacker/end Curt Maggitt will be felt the most against a physical Arkansas offense that makes its living with the inside run. Defensive coordinator John Jancek already said this week Smith will be thrown in the fire as the strongside linebacker, and it appears the coaching staff is taking a sink-or-swim approach to his play moving forward. Kirkland will likely split time with walk-on Colton Jumper, while potential All-SEC selection Jalen Reeves-Maybin is set to continue his monstrous year alongside them. The play of the linebackers will be paramount to stopping Arkansas on offense, containing prolific tight end Hunter Henry and limiting running back Alex Collins.
2. Passing when possible
Tennessee has struggled to pass the ball this year. That's not exactly an unknown fact. The Vols have run 311 plays this season and 209 of them have been on the ground. Butch Jones' team doesn't have a 100-yard receiver so far this season and quarterback Josh Dobbs is 3-of-10 on passes that travel 20 yards or more through the air. To exacerbate this problem, the weather forecast calls for cold, rainy conditions for most of the night. Arkansas will undoubtedly key in on the run and try to force Dobbs to move the ball through the air. Can he do enough in the inclement weather to make a difference passing the ball so the Razorbacks can't take away the Vols' talented run game?
3. Close the deal
Tennessee was up by double digits heading into the fourth quarter of its two losses this season before coughing up what seemed like sure wins. If the Vols are able to get up on Arkansas early, they have to learn how to keep the lead and finish things once and for all. Has the coaching staff learned from its previous blown leads enough to know how to close the deal against the Hogs? Will the players have the confidence deep in the fourth quarter to hold on for a victory? This might be the most obvious key to a game ever, but it's also the most important seeing how things shaped out for Tennessee against Oklahoma and Florida this season.