Devil's Advocate

Welcome to Devil's Advocate — Inside Tennessee's version of point/counterpoint — where each week analysts Randy Moore and Jeffery Stewart take opposite sides of the field to make their case for our readers' regular amusement and occasional edification.



Did you ever approach someone you haven't seen in years only to realize upon closer inspection that the person wasn't your acquaintance, after all? Of course, you have. One glance isn't always sufficient.

It's the same way with football games. At first glance, you think there's no way Tennessee can hang with Arkansas this Saturday.

The game is being held at Fayetteville, where the Razorbacks have a prohibitive home-field advantage. Arkansas is on a roll, having won eight games in a row since losing its opener to Southern Cal. The Hogs will send a great rushing attack against a Vol rushing defense that was gashed for 231 yards by LSU just last weekend.

The Big Orange can't possibly win ...

Well, in the words of that great philosopher Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend."

Tennessee was limited to minus-11 rushing yards and grossly outplayed by Florida, yet lost by one point. The Vols were dominated statistically by LSU but led until the final nine seconds. My point? Tennessee is a resourceful team that will be there in the final minute, no matter how outmanned the Vols might be. And, as all college football fans know, anything can happen in the final minute of a close game.

If you've followed Tennessee football the past few years, you're already aware that the Vols have posted virtually all of their biggest wins on the road — at Florida in 2001, at Miami in 2003, at Georgia in 2004 and at LSU in 2005. And you know that the Vols are at their most dangerous when the odds seem stacked most heavily against them.

Here's something you may not know. Arkansas has a "situation" at quarterback. Heralded freshman Mitch Mustain is the people's choice but unheralded Casey Dick has been much more effective. Houston Nutt fanned the flames last weekend by yanking Mustain after he threw an interception on the first series against South Carolina, then letting Dick play the rest of the way. The Hogs now have a full-blown QB controversy, and anyone who saw the 2005 Tennessee Vols knows just how divisive that can be.

Finally, Arkansas has an eight-game winning streak but the Razorbacks are no juggernaut. They lost by 36 to Southern Cal AT HOME. They edged Vanderbilt by two. They beat Alabama by a point in double overtime AT HOME only because the Tide's kicker couldn't make a field goal or an extra point. And they beat South Carolina by six one week after Tennessee beat the Gamecocks by seven on the same field.

Arkansas is a good team. Tennessee is a good team. This game will be up for grabs entering the final minute, and the Vols tend to come through in those situations ... last Saturday notwithstanding.



Here's a couple of simple truths that tell you all you need to know about Saturday's high-stakes SEC showdown in Fayetteville.

(1) If you can't run on the road in the SEC, you'll end up road kill.

(2) If you can't stop the run on the road in the SEC, you'll get steamrolled.

Those truths are compounded by the fact these are real ground Hogs the Vols are playing. In other words: the terrain is their domain. These ground Hogs tear up the field, gobble up the grass and pile up the yards. They don't just lead the SEC in rushing, they rule the SEC by rushing the ball far better than any other team. It's no coincidence Arkansas stands alone as the Conference's only undefeated team.

Consider that No.1 Arkansas averages 239 yards per game, while LSU is the SEC's No. 2 rushing offense with an average of 166 yards per game. The difference of 72 yards per game is 14 yards greater than the difference between No. 2 LSU and No. 10 Tennessee, which averages 107.7 yards per game. That's not a comforting thought when the Vols are coming off a game in which they surrendered 231 yards on the ground to the Tigers in Neyland Stadium. If the Hogs go 65 yards above their average in Reynolds Stadium on Saturday night they'll have 304 rushing yards for the game. Consider that despite the fact UT had a decisive plus-3 advantage in turnovers against LSU, it still wasn't enough to overcome the Tigers 179-yard rushing advantage.

Another way to look at it: Arkansas averages just 37 yards less per game than No. 10 Tennessee, No. 11 Kentucky and No. 12 Mississippi State average together on the ground per contest. If you think UT's defense was on the field a long time against LSU, wait till you see the Hogs' offense devour the clock. If Arkansas hogs the ball like it capable. it wouldn't matter if Peyton Manning himself was UT's QB — even if he brought Jamal Lewis with him.

Do the math and it this doesn't seem like much of a mystery. Arkansas is No. 4 in the nation in rushing while UT is No. 62 in rush defense. Arkansas is a respectable ranked No. 38 in defense against the run while Tennessee checks in at No. 93. Arkansas ranks 58 spots above the Vols in the first comparison and 55 spots above the Vols in the latter.

Arkansas' leading rusher Darren McFadden (115) averages nine more yards per game than UT's entire team total. Running mate Felix Jones averages just 27 yards less than the Vol running backs do collectively.

In the words of that great philosopher Lee Corso, who will be in Fayetteville with the entire ESPN GameDay crew, "That Darren McFadden, WOW! Now that (Oklahoma's) Adrian Peterson got hurt, I think Darren McFadden is the best big running back in the country."

Need I say, Tennessee has a lot of ground to make up?

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