The Razorbacks absorbed the blow, countered with a couple of their own and won the fight in the late rounds to further plunge the Vols into a pit of what if and what could have been.
The Vols blew yet another double digit lead, only this time in the first half, in a 24-20 loss to Arkansas in Neyland Stadium Saturday. After a 96-yard Evan Berry opening kickoff return electrified the announced 101, 265 in attendance, Tennessee failed to match Arkansas’ explosive offensive output to give Bret Bielema the first SEC road win of his tenure in Fayeteville.
"Too many missed tackles, but really at the end of the day and what it takes to play winning football, we just weren't able to make big plays at big moments of the game," head coach Butch Jones said. "I give [Arkansas] credit. They were able to do that."
Like clockwork, Tennessee stormed out of the gate, matching Berry’s return with a 7-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Josh Dobbs with 3:23 to play in the first quarter to take a 14-0 lead. Also like clockwork, the Vols’ opponent was able to whittle that deficit down.
Alex Collins punched in a 4-yard touchdown with 5:57 remaining in the first half to cut the game to seven, followed just seven minutes later with a 33-yard strike from Brandon Allen to Dominique Reed to tie the game and silence the crowd.
Tennessee’s defense had no answer for an Arkansas offense that used a balanced attack en route to 494 yards and a dominant time of possession. The Razorbacks kept the ball nearly ten minutes more than Tennessee and outrushed the Vols 141-4 in the second half.
Arkansas consolidated Tennessee’s possessions eating more than ten minutes of play in the third quarter and holding the Vols to just four possessions after halftime.
"I think some of it is a byproduct of we had the ball for a total of eight minutes in the second half," Jones said. "We only had four possessions. We started at the minus-24, the minus-6, the minus-7, and minus-14. We knew it was going to be a line of scrimmage game. It showed that."
After missing his first try of the night, Aaron Medley connected for two field goals to bring Tennessee to 20 points, but it would be all the Vols could muster. In Tennessee’s four second-half possessions, it punted twice and ended the game on downs. The offense took four total trips to the red zone, coming away with just 10 points.
The defense also struggled to stop Arkansas’ power run attack which utilized the play-action pass and two 100-yard rushers in Alex Collins (154) and Rawleigh Williams (102).
The Razorbacks outscored Tennessee 17-3 in the second half, solidifying the win with a 1-yard Alex Collins run with 9:12 remaining in the third quarter.
Tennessee failed to reach a rhythm offensively and it showed. Josh Dobbs ended the game 20-of-36 for 232 yards, while Jalen Hurd finished with 90 yards on the ground. The Vols now hope to pick themselves off the mat and take a battered and bruised body into a game against Georgia Saturday.
"We all hurt. It's tough on all of us," Jones said. "When you invest so much — and you know there is no magical potion, there is no magical cure — you go back to work. You keep working to get better.
Evan Berry on electrifying Neyland