Ground Hogs vs. Air Vols

Arkansas is perceived as a one-dimensional football team, so it might surprise you to learn that – statistically, at least – the Razorbacks are far more balanced than the Tennessee team they host tonight at 6 CST in Fayetteville.

Houston Nutt's Hogs (8-1 overall, 5-0 SEC) average 238.9 rushing yards per game and 158.0 passing yards per game – a differential of 80.9 yards. Phillip Fulmer's Vols (7-2, 3-2) are even more one-sided. They average 276.8 passing yards and just 107.8 rushing yards per game – a differential of 169.0.

Thus, tonight's SEC showdown essentially is a match-up of Air Vols versus Ground Hogs. Each team sticks to what it does best. And, make no mistake, Arkansas clearly has the SEC's best ground game. The league's second-best rushing attack belongs to LSU, which averages 72.7 yards per game less than the Razorbacks.

"They've got a really good scheme," UT defensive coordinator John Chavis says. "They do a great job of blocking and, when you've got backs like they have, you can definitely run the football. That's what they've kind of designed their team around."

Although they have a powerful offensive line that Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer calls "probably the best we've seen all year," the Hogs out-scheme opponents as much as they out-muscle them.

Chavis sums it up this way: "Rather than working on pass routes and pass schemes, they say ‘We're going to run the football. We're going to work on formations and motions and shifts. We're going to force people to adjust to us and when they don't adjust well, we're going to run the football.'

"They're talented enough to run it when you do get lined up right. Then you throw in the multitude of formations and motions, and if you don't get lined up, then they get really good at running it."

The overwhelming key to the Hogs' potent ground game, though, is the 1-2 punch of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. McFadden leads the SEC with 1,038 rushing yards. Jones is fourth in yards (714) but tops in yards-per-carry average (8.1).

Bottom line: McFadden and Jones are the SEC's best tandem since first-round NFL Draft picks Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown shared Auburn's tailback duties two years ago. Asked if the Razorback duo reminds him of the Tiger duo, Chavis paused thoughtfully.

"In terms of them being great players, yeah, but they're different style runners," the Vol coordinator said. "I'm not saying those other two didn't have great speed but these two (McFadden, Jones) are speedsters big-time. I don't know that I've seen two backs in the same backfield with this kind of speed."

Stopping McFadden and Jones under ideal circumstances would be difficult. Making matters worse for Tennessee is the fact first-team middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell has been slowed by a shoulder injury and second-team safety Antonio Wardlow will miss the game due a disciplinary suspension.

If Mitchell can't play, Chavis says the Vols have two options. One would involve weakside linebacker Jerod Mayo moving inside, with backup Rico McCoy assuming Mayo's weakside spot. The other would involve Ellix Wilson stepping into the middle linebacker spot.

Filling Wardlow's spot as the No. 2 free safety will be reserve cornerbacks Antonio Gaines and Ricardo Kemp.

Even with Mitchell and Wardlow available, Tennessee's defense would not be where Chavis thought it would be at this point in the season.

"To be quite honest I thought we'd be a little better," he said. "We've had to deal with some situations (season-ending injuries to tackle Justin Harrell and cornerback Inquoris Johnson) and had to shuffle some in the secondary.

"We're not dog-awful but we're not what we used to be. That's a fact anybody can see. We made some progress, then we slipped back a little bit."

If the Vols slip tonight, they could be trampled by a bunch of Ground Hogs.

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