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Hogs don't bog down out of gate

by Tom Murphy | November 4, 2020 at 1:55 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas has been good at opening the second half of games with scoring drives, and the Razorbacks added a touchdown on its initial series of the game last week at No. 8 Texas A&M.

For the first time all season, Arkansas marched down the field for a touchdown on its opening possession when Feleipe Franks connected with Treylon Burks for a 6-yard score to complete a well-balanced 87-yard drive.

Arkansas drew within 28-17 on A.J. Reed's 34-yard field goal on its first series of the second half, netting its fourth score in five games to open the second half.

The Hogs had not scored on their first series of a game since Oct. 12, 2019, at Kentucky. On their first series in their first four games this season, the Razorbacks: went three and out, gaining 6 yards vs. Georgia; went three and out with 9 yards at Mississippi; went three and out with 6 yards at Auburn; went three and out with 7 yards vs. Ole Miss.

"It was one of our team goals to start fast, start fast, start fast," Coach Sam Pittman said. "That did not necessarily mean just the offense. Our defense got them off the field and we went down and scored immediately."

Pittman compared the quick start with a boxing analogy.

"I don't know much about boxing, but I've been in a few fights in my day, but I know you probably want to throw the first punch," Pittman said. "You ain't got to show a guy how tough you are and take a few shots. You probably ought to throw the first punch, and we talked about that. I don't know if we did or not, but I do know that was our mentality going into the game."

Pittman had emphasized a more lively pre-game warmup earlier in the season.

"What we've done in pre-game is we've gone faster," he said. "We haven't changed it, but it's a more physical pre-game than what we've done. So we're going to try the same things and see if it works this week."

Pruitt praise

Tennessee Coach Jeremy Pruitt was complimentary of the Razorbacks' first half of the season, particularly on the defensive side.

"Looking at Arkansas, been really impressed with how they've come together as a team," Pruitt said Monday. "You look at them defensively to start with, Barry Odom I think has done a fantastic job.

"They've created a lot of different looks in the secondary, have created a lot of turnovers. I believe they lead the country in interceptions, been very opportunistic there. Tons of eight-drop, rushing three guys, and getting out, getting into coverage, mixing it up there."

The Razorbacks' interception count stayed at 10 after a turnover-free game at Texas A&M, allowing Kentucky and Wake Forest to take the national lead with 11 picks in six games, one more than Arkansas. The Razorbacks, Wildcats and Demon Deacons lead the nation with three interception returns for touchdowns. Louisiana Tech leads the country with 282 interception return yards, while the Hogs are fourth (181).

"Offensively, they've played with a lot of speed on offense, snapping the ball a lot of times," Pruitt said. "As the season's went, probably been more efficient offensively, creating some explosive plays."

Win streak

There is only one team in the SEC over which Arkansas could claim an active winning streak heading into 2020, and that's Tennessee.

The Razorbacks have won the last two games against the Volunteers, the only time they can claim a two-game winning streak in the series.

Arkansas downed the Vols 49-7 on Nov. 12, 2011, then went to Neyland Stadium and notched a 24-20 upset on Oct. 3, 2015, in a matchup between coaches Bret Bielema and Butch Jones.

The only other SEC team that Arkansas had beaten in its last meeting heading into the 2020 season is Florida, whom the Razorbacks face on the road next week.

Both off

The Razorbacks and Volunteers had Tuesday free of practice and meetings as the NCAA instituted a mandatory off day to allow players to vote.

Both coaching staffs prepared for the week well in advance. Tennessee, coming off an open date, practiced on Sunday to start the week to make up for missing Tuesday.

The Razorbacks did the same, working without pads on Sunday, the day after falling 42-31 at No. 8 Texas A&M.

'Insane' freaks

Tennessee preseason All-America guard Trey Smith had a notable take on facing an SEC West squad such as Arkansas, whom the Vols haven't played since 2015.

"It's always interesting because we're not familiar with them," Smith said. "At least, personally I'm not. This will be my first time playing Arkansas.

"But at the end of the day, everyone in the SEC is pretty similar. You're going to have insane athletes at certain positions, especially defensive line. You're always going to have that freak of the week, that guy that you need to be prepared for.

"Defensively, a lot of the schemes they run are similar to a lot of our opponents, especially Missouri, because their defensive coordinators have past connections."

Postseason picks

Brett McMurphy of Stadium, and formerly of ESPN.com, updated his postseason picks Tuesday, and he's got College Football Playoff pairings of Alabama vs. Oregon and Ohio State vs. Clemson.

McMurphy projected three SEC teams in the New Year's Six Bowls: Texas A&M vs. Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, Georgia vs. Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl, and Florida vs. Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

Arkansas will square off against Texas in the Liberty Bowl, McMurphy predicted.

Nick knock

Former Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel was named Mountain West offensive player of the week after passing for 467 yards and five touchdowns in the Spartans' 38-21 win over New Mexico.

On Saturday afternoon, Starkel, a Texas A&M signee who transferred to Arkansas, made this post on his Twitter account: "My Starkel-Bowl prediction: A&M 28, Ark 20. Good luck to both teams!"

The prediction was met with a solid amount of criticism.

Stat chat

In the major statistical categories, Tennessee ranks in the top half of the SEC in only a couple of departments, such as No. 7 in pass defense (254 yards per game), No. 6 in sacks per game (2.0) and No. 5 in net punting (40.6).

Arkansas is No. 5 in both scoring defense (28.8) and pass defense (245.2); No. 1 in turnover margin (plus-6) and turnovers gained (13); and No. 2 in interceptions (10), pass efficiency defense and red-zone defense (68.2% scoring allowed).

Arkansas is last in the SEC in punt return average (minus-1.0), while the Vols are last in time of possession (26:21) and third-down conversion percentage (.261).

Extra points

• The Razorbacks had a season-high eight different pass catchers vs. the Aggies last week.

• Feleipe Franks became the first Arkansas quarterback to rush for 90-plus yards since Matt Jones ran for 93 yards against Texas in 2004.

• Tight end Hudson Henry established career highs with both six catches and 33 receiving yards at Texas A&M.

• Cornerback Hudson Clark had a career-high nine tackles last week while making his third start in a row.

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