Matchup: Ark State

This week, Tennessee takes on Ark State in Knoxville. This is our take on this Vols vs Indians matchup.

So Tennessee coaches say the Vols have been running the ball fairly well at times. They just don't run enough.

I don't buy it.

Tennessee isn't calling the run more often because the Vols aren't confident they can run. You think Phillip Fulmer likes going to the shotgun on third-and-1?

The Vols have made just 2-of-10 third-down conversions of 3 or less yards against California and Florida. And most of the failures came on passes.

If UT could line up and run the ball with success, it would.

But it can't – not consistently.

Vols rushers did average 5.3 yards per carry against Cal, but that was enhanced by Arian Foster's 42-yard run. UT couldn't run against Southern Miss in the first half, but did manage 151 in the second half. The Vols were shut down by Florida, getting 7 yards on 14 first-half runs. UT finished with 31 rushing yards, 18 in the final five minutes after the Gators led by more than 30 points.

It's really hard to defend UT's run game.

Offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe said former UCLA and NFL coach Dick Vermeil told him you've just got to stick with the run, even when the opponent it stiking it to you.

That cost the Vols the Florida game last year.

UT has called 81 runs this season. More than 40 have resulted in a gain of 2 or fewer yards. In the last two years, UT's longest run against Florida has been 6 yards.

UT's 113.7 rushing yards per game ranks last in the SEC and 90th in the nation. It's 5.7 yards more than last year's anemic total.

Granted, UT has played one of the nation's most difficult schedules. But just because a team is good doesn't mean it has a great run defense. Cal's defense, for example, isn't very good. And Florida was replacing six of its front seven.

It's put up or shut up time for UT's running attack. If the Vols can't gain at least 150 yards against Arkansas State, they're in for a long season, because the passing attack isn't good enough to carry this team – not against good opponents.

How good is Arkansas State. The Indians were good enough to outgain Texas 397 yards to 340 and had a chance to tie in the final minute except for officials blowing an onside kick that ASU recovered.

ASU has four players on national award watch lists: safety Tyrell Johnson (Bronko Nagurski), quarterback Corey Leonard (Davey O'Brien), Reggie ARnold (Doak Walker) and Koby McKinnon (Butkus Award). Johnson was the preseason Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the year.

Here is a look at the matchps between UT and Arkansas State.

Game #: 1133
Site: Knoxville
Date: Sep. 22
Conference: SUNB
Coach Match-up:
For the Vols - Fulmer and for the Indians - Roberts


Vols

Indians
OLCOMMENTSOL

The Vols are outstanding in pass protection, subpar in run blocking. Is the zone blocking scheme really working? ASU starts four seniors and a junior on the line. ASU rushed for 125 yards against Texas while UT rushed for 37 against Florida.

QB'sCOMMENTSQB's

UT's Erik Ainge has hit 65.3 percent of his passes, but the broken little finger on his passing hand has affected some of his throws, particularly downfield. It's also caused two awkward handoffs resulting in fumbles. Leonard has gone from a 49 percent passer last season to 63 percent, mostly because of better decision making. He's also mobile, averaging 44.5 rushing yards per game.

RB'sCOMMENTSRB's

UT's Arian Foster was shut down by Florida, but he's still averaging 80 yards per game. LaMarcus Coker has yet to become the playmaker he was a year ago. Arnold (5-9, 220) is a power back who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year on a bum ankle. He tied a career-high 156 yards against SMU.

WR'sCOMMENTSWR's

UT has three receivers with 17 catches each. Lucas Taylor is averaging 16.4 yards per catch, but the passing game has just six completions of 20 or more yards. Levi Dejohnette leads ASU with 12 catches. Preston Brown, who signed with Oklahoma State out of Smyrna, Tenn., but was cut loose because the Cowboys oversigned, is tied for second with eight catches.


Vols

Indians
DLCOMMENTSDL

UT has been horrible at stopping the run. Opponents are averaging 191.7 yards per carry (90th in the nation) and 5.0 per carry. Florida rushed for 255 and Cal had 230. ASU starts two seniors, a junior and a sophomore on the front four and limited Texas to 117 rushing yards. SMU had 96.

LB'sCOMMENTSLB's

UT has a solid trio of starters, but none have played consistently well. Jerod Mayo might be better suited at outside linebacker, but the Vols wouldn't have a suitable middle linebacker to move Mayo outside. ASU's Koby McKinnon (Memphis) is the team's best linebacker.

DB'sCOMMENTSDB's

UT's secondary has been a major disappointment. The Vols allow 268 passing yards per game, rank 108 in the nation in pass-defensive efficiency, have just one interception on 88 pass attempts and haven't tackled well. Free safety Jonathan Hefney needs to emerge. ASU has four fifth-year senior starters. Free safety Khayyam Burns is the older brother of Auburn quarterback Kodi Burns.

S. TeamsCOMMENTSS. Teams

UT has a good punter and kicker and the Vols have been very good on kick returns, setting a yardage record against Florida with 260 (Coker had a record 207). The 25.6 average on kick returns is 20th in the NCAA, after finishing 117th last year. ASU's Josh Arauco was 12 of 16 on field goals last year but missed three extra points. Brett Shrable averages 36.1 yards per punt. Brandon Thompkins is a good kick returner.


Vols

Indians
INTANGIBLES

The Vols should be stinging after losing by 39 at Florida – or is their dauber down. ASU gained confidence in a 21-13 loss to Texas. The Indians won't be intimidated by playing in massive Neyland Stadium.

PREDICTION

Tennessee 30, Arkansas State 20


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