Posted by Brett Kincaid on October 28, 2011
- Line: Arkansas (-10) at Vanderbilt
- Kickoff: 11:21am CDT (Televised regionally on SEC Network with Dave Neal providing PBP, Andre Wear with color analysis, and Cara Capuano on the sideline)
- Weather: Sunshine, Kickoff Temperature of 54 degrees with readings near 60 degrees in the 4th Quarter
- Streaks: Arkansas has won three in a row entering this game and two straight against the Commodores
Trap Game Alert! Two seasons ago, that was the catch phrase du jour around college football. While it’s not on the tips of every talkers’ tongues, trap games do still exist. The Hogs hit the road for the second consecutive week before they head back to Fayetteville for a Homecoming date with #12 South Carolina next weekend. Vandy is…Vandy. At least, there is a big concern that players believe that.
See, Vandy is no longer Vandy. While they are not an SEC power – yet – the Commodores have a very solid football team that would easily qualify for a bowl game in any other conference in the country. They know how to play defense at Vanderbilt, and the offense is finally showing signs of life. First year head coach James Franklin, the former offensive coordinator at Maryland, has the Dores believing. Quite simply this has all the markings of a very, very dangerous game for Arkansas.
Why Arkansas should win: While Vandy may be improving quickly and significantly, the Hogs are still a far superior team on paper. A quick scan of Vanderbilt’s schedule shows that they have yet to beat a quality opponent and have struggled to score against two upper-tier SEC defenses (South Carolina & Alabama). While Arkansas’s defense may not be as good as those two, the Hogs are good enough to clamp down on the Dores and make them earn every yard.
While the concern does exist, we find it hard to believe that Bobby Petrino will allow his team to start sluggishly like they did last week. The Hogs are very good, but they are not good enough to simply flip the switch when they want to win. Not every week anyway. A big hole seems like a big unlikelihood this week.
The biggest reason for optimism, though, is this: Dennis Johnson. The diminutive Texarkana native has emerged as a solid source of rushing yardage for the Hogs. Ronnie Wingo, Jr. simply could not seize the moment, and Broderick Green is nowhere near ready to be a 25-carry back. With DJ stepping up to fill the void, Wingo and Green can serve useful roles as backups. If that position can generate 150+ yards on the ground, the Hogs should be able to slice and dice defenses for the rest of the year.
Given Bobby Petrino’s and Garrick McGee’s abilities to put together a comprehensive game plan each week, I expect to see Tyler Wilson hand the ball off quite a bit early before attacking the middle of the field with Jarius Wright and Joe Adams. While most fans want to see an offensive explosion right out of the chute, a more practical approach calls for an inverted Petrino/McGee game plan – run the ball early and often before picking apart the secondary once they march for run support.
On the defensive side of the ball, Arkansas is healthier than they have been since the start of fall camp with the exception of Tank Wright. While he is healing, it looks like Tank will sit this game out before returning for the Gamecocks. Trey Flowers has stepped up in his absence, and Chris Smith still provides some ability to rush the passer. With Jake Bequette anchoring the other side of the line, the Hogs look to be in good shape (finally) at defensive end. Alonzo Highsmith and James Franklin continue to play all over the field, and Tramain Thomas may have finally put it together. The emergence of Tevin Mitchel gives Willy Robinson the ability to sit the curiously ineffective Darius Winston. While not airtight, the defense is getting better and better. Vandy will try to play fast and use misdirection and short passes, which means the Hogs need to play with discipline on the edges. This group of starters gives us more confidence than we have had in a while that they can do that.
Why Vanderbilt should win: The Commodores believe they can win, and several intangibles point their way. Most notably for Vandy, they get a home game coming off an out-of-conference romp over Army last weekend where they piled up 530 yards of total offense. Jordan Rogers, little brother to reigning Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rogers, doesn’t scare you much on first glance, but the Vanderbilt quarterback in a dual threat. If Arkansas hopes to beat Vanderbilt they will have to stop the run out of the quarterback position and make Rogers – in only his second career start – read the Hogs defense. Vanderbilt has churned out 544 yards on the ground in their past two contests, the win over Army and a 33-28 loss to Georgia. The problem for Arkansas is that rush defense remains a problem. The Razorbacks rank 82nd nationally in total rushing yards allowed (1,283) and 87th in rushing yards per game (183.3/game). Vanderbilt should be able to run the ball, which means they should be able to control the clock and limit the chances for Tyler Wilson and the Quad Squad.
Defensively, the Commodores play as well as anyone in the country – especially in the secondary. Vandy is ranked 20th against the pass in total yardage (1,339 yards) and 26th in the country in yards per game (191.3/game). As you have undoubtedly seen this week, Vanderbilt also leads the nation with 15 interceptions this year. If the Vanderbilt defense is able to stifle the passing game of Arkansas, there is tremendous cause for concern. While Dennis Johnson certainly looks ready to emerge as the Hogs go-to back, the inability to consistently pound the rock could create panic if the passing game is not clicking.
And the Winner Is…
We went back and forth on this one. On the one hand, it’s tempting to say the Hogs will walk into Vanderbilt Stadium and mash the Commodores with overwhelming force. The Hogs need a breakout game, are due for a breakout game, and Vanderbilt has enough holes that the Hogs could easily exploit if everything clicks.
On the other hand, though, teams that start slowly develop tendencies that are very difficult to overcome. There is no technical flaw that needs to be corrected here. It’s a mindset. It’s about lining up and executing immediately, tackling the ball carrier with force as soon as the ball is kicked, and putting a hat-on-a-hat and running the football aggressively. Arkansas has failed to do those things in the first quarter of their past four football games. Why should we believe they will immediately become a First Quarter Force – in a road game no less?
In the end, though, Arkansas is the better football team. We expect to see a better performance from beginning to end, but we have no expectations of a perfect game. Look for the running game to continue to improve and more targets to Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Joe Adams will be used as a decoy more this week than ever, creating more one-on-one opportunities for Wright, Childs, and Cobi Hamilton. Ultimately, the Hogs will wear down Vandy and cover the 10-point spread midway through the 3rd quarter before letting off the gas and pounding DJ, Wingo, and Green in the final period. Arkansas 38, Vanderbilt 20
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