Two straight defeats have turned a 7-1 start – with impressive wins over California and Georgia – into a three-loss season and a possible appearance in the Chick Fil-A Bowl in Atlanta for a third time in five years.
``It's like I told our team,'' Fulmer said, ``I take responsibility that we didn't come out as emotional as we needed to. We got our butts handed to us in the first half.
``Certainly, we had limitations with a young quarterback. But we had lingering affects from the LSU game. We were not ready to play and I didn't get it done.''
It was clear from the opening kickoff – which was fumbled – that the Vols weren't sharp or focused.
Arkansas ripped through John Chavis' defense for four touchdowns in a five-possession stretch with scoring drives that covered 53, 72, 82 and 64 yards for a 28-7 halftime lead.
UT's defense stiffened in the second half, but it didn't matter. The offense was stifled by the Hogs' impressive press coverage and couldn't overcome a 21-point deficit. A last-minute touchdown made the score more respectable.
``We didn't match their intensity level in the first half,'' said UT linebacker Jerod Mayo.
And they couldn't tackle tailback Darren McFadden, who rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries and threw a touchdown pass while playing quarterback from the shotgun.
In a productive wrinkle, the Hogs played McFadden 11 snaps in the shotgun and it produced 113 yards and three touchdowns. McFadden ran for 59 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries, handed off twice to Felix Jones for 42 yards and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to 6-foot-6 Marcus Monk.
In the previous nine games, McFadden had 12 quarterback snaps for 118 yards.
``We didn't tackle No. 5 very well,'' Fulmer said of McFadden. ``He's a great back, the best back by far, I think, that we've seen this year.''
And Monk is one of the best receivers. Blessed with soft hands and long arms, Monk caught eight passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. He made a brilliant adjustment on a fade pass from 10 yards out to score the first points of the game and provide Arkansas with momentum.
After Arkansas took a 14-0 lead, Tennessee answered with an 80-yard drive, highlighted by a 19-yard pass to Jayson Swain, a late hit on the quarterback and a 27-yard touchdown strike to Robert Meachem.
That was the lone scoring drive for the Vols until a meaningless march in the final 3 minutes that resulted in a score with 30 seconds left.
Tennessee's run defense, which ranked 62nd in the nation, couldn't stop Arkansas when it mattered. The Hogs rolled up 259 rushing yards, 20 more than their season average. It was the second straight game in which an opponent ran for more than 200 yards against Tennessee.
Arkansas took advantage of UT's shortcomings along the front four and at middle linebacker. Marvin Mitchell (shoulder) tried to go but wasn't effective. Mayo, Ellix Wilson and Rico McCoy each took turns at middle linebacker.
Meanwhile, Tennessee's offense once again had trouble on the ground and didn't do well in beating the Hogs' press coverage.
Redshirt freshman Jonathan Crompton, who showed promise in a loss last week against a great LSU defense, wasn't as sharp in Fayetteville. He completed only 16 of 34 passes for 174 yards with one interception and two touchdowns. He had three dropped.
``I think he did just OK,'' Fulmer said.
The Vols actually missed starter Erik Ainge (high ankle sprain) more against Arkansas than LSU. They missed his road experience, his command of the offense, his accuracy.
At one point in the first half, Ainge warmed up on the sideline, but Fulmer said he did not consider inserting Ainge.
``We need to get him well,'' Fulmer said of Ainge. ``I don't think he could have defended himself (against Arkansas). I think there's a good chance he'll play (against Vanderbilt).''
As for Crompton, Fulmer said: ``It was tough duty to come in as a first-time starter in an SEC stadium, particularly with what they were playing for.''
Arkansas was certainly playing for more than Tennessee. The Hogs are one win away from clinching a third berth in the SEC Championship game. The Vols, eliminated from East Division contention last week, are one loss away from a mediocre season.
``We had some emotional hangover from last week,'' Fulmer said.
If the Vols have another hangover, it could mean defeat. Vanderbilt played Arkansas closer than the Vols. In fact, Vandy missed a late field that would have won the game. The Commodores also came close to beating Alabama.
Losing to Vanderbilt last season ``was a pretty hard pill to swallow,'' Fulmer said.
It would be even harder if Tennessee lost a second consecutive game to Vanderbilt. And it would ruin what was once a promising season.