The Vols held Arkansas to one first down in the first half and 127 overall rushing yards in a convincing 34-13 victory. Arkansas entered the game leading the SEC in scoring, rushing and total offense.
There are several common denominators in those two Tennessee wins.
One, both were played in Neyland Stadium.
Two, both came amid much media criticism.
Three, Tennessee jumped out to a big halftime lead.
Four, defensive coordinator John Chavis had a simple game plan.
The last common denominator is the most intriguing.
Chavis has said after some previous games that UT had trouble with alignments and assignments, that there were busted coverages and players not filling in gaps that resulted in big plays by the opponent.
So, Chavis pared down the responsibilities against Georgia and Arkansas and it worked. Those two teams combined for 196 rushing yards against a team that gave up 234 rushing to Louisiana Lafayette, a career-high 160 to South Carolina running back Cory Boyd, 255 to Florida and 178 to Arkansas State.
Imagine that: Arkansas State had 51 more rushing yards against Tennessee than Arkansas.
The week before facing UT, Arkansas ran for a record 542 yards against an SEC opponent, South Carolina.
``If we'd had to put all 11 in the box,'' Chavis said, ``I guarantee you we were going to find a way to keep them from running for 550 yards.''
But Chavis didn't have to put 11 in the box. He put eight in the box, cheating a safety into run support and playing man-to-man coverage on the corners.
It was that simple.
It was amusing to hear Arkansas coaches say Tennessee's defense stayed one step ahead of the Hog's offense. It was also intriguing to hear Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis say his coaches get paid millions to figure out what the other team is doing, but didn't.
Chavis said holding Arkansas to 80 second-half rushing yards last year gave the defense confidence it could contain the Hogs' ground attack. He blamed himself for not doing a better job of figuring out Arkansas's scheme in the second quarter a year ago.
So, Chavis kept things simple against Arkansas.
``Our players knew what they were going to do when they lined up,'' Chavis said. `` We made the plan simple enough that they could understand everything that was going on. There were only two or three situations where we were outmanned in terms of our alignments. That was our big focus. It was a very, very simple game plan.''
That begs the question: Should UT have used more simple game plans in previous weeks? That depends on the opponent, Chavis said.
``I think you have to adjust it in terms of where you are and what your strengths are,'' Chavis said. ``I'm not going to go into that (defense's strengths). I'm not going to give anybody a scouting report.
``But you have to be able to adjust and be flexible. I felt like we were good enough that if we didn't misalign, I don't want to say stop, but slow the run game down to the point where we could be successful.''
Chavis said the Vols had a great week of practice, but he admitted that doesn't always indicate how a team will play.
``I knew we'd play good (against Arkansas) because of their (defensive players') focus and preparation,'' Chavis said.
``You say that, and there have been other times I thought that, and we didn't play well. You don't know. You really don't know.''
ROGERS COMES UP CLUTCH
Austin Rogers had perhaps his best game as a Vol.
He had six catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. While he had a 7-catch, 112-yard game against Southern Miss, he was clutch against Arkansas.
Rogers converted four third downs: On third-and-10 (16-yard touchdown catch), on third-and-10 (11-yard catch) on third-and-13 (19-yard catch) and on third-and 3 (3-yard catch. Two catches led to touchdowns and the last one helped the Vols eat up valuable fourth-quarter minutes.
EXTRA POINTS: Arkansas entered the game leading the SEC in third-down defense (27 percent) and having converted 68.8 percent on third downs in the previous three games. UT converted 7 of 16 and held Arkansas to 2 of 12 (starting out 0 for 7). … UT easily converted four quarterback sneaks for first downs on third and fourth and short. Two conversions included an offside penalty against Arkansas. … Eric Berry set a single-season school record by returning two interceptions for 98 yards. He has 207 yards on four interceptions, moving ahead of Bobby Majors and Tim Priest on the UT list.