The offensive line was overpowered. Quarterback Casey Dick was out of rhythm, and backup Nathan Emert couldn’t get much going when he was given the chance to move the football.
But the loss of running back Felix Jones to a deep thigh bruise early in the first half contributed to the offensive woes seen in the 34-13 defeat to No. 19 Tennessee in Knoxville.
With Jones sidelined for much of the afternoon, the Volunteers turned their efforts to slowing down Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden instead of having to worry about containing both of Arkansas’ 1,000-yard rushers.
“The thing about Felix, he’s the one that takes attention from Darren a little bit. And they work so good together. That combination is tough, tough to stop,” Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said Sunday.
“Without him, of course (the Volunteers) were ganging up a little bit more on (Darren).”
Nutt said he should have a better idea after the next few days as to whether Jones will be ready in time for Saturday’s critical showdown with Mississippi State (6-4, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
“In his mind, he’ll be back,” Nutt said.
Arkansas athletic trainer Dean Weber said Sunday that Jones is questionable for this weekend, adding that he should know more about the junior’s status either Tuesday or Wednesday.
Jones has managed to avoid injuries during his first three seasons at Arkansas, but he spent most of the Tennessee loss standing on the sideline either pedaling on the stationary bicycle or getting his right thigh wrapped.
The Tulsa native was injured less than five minutes into the game when he hit the ground after getting tackled by his facemask following his 48-yard kickoff return.
Jones was in the lineup for a few plays, but Nutt said he knew by halftime that he would be without one half of his dynamic running back tandem.
Jones, who was coming off a career-high 166 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 48-36 win over South Carolina on Nov. 3, finished with three carries for three yards against Tennessee.
“We’ll know more this week how extensive, how tough of an injury that’s going to be for him,” Nutt said. “He’s working on it right now (by getting treatment), and hopefully we’ll get him back.
“You could sure tell the difference when he went out.”
Arkansas (6-4, 2-4) never got into an rhythm against a Tennessee defense that had been exposed in lopsided losses to California, No. 14 Florida and No. 8 Georgia.
The Razorbacks gained only one first down and failed to convert on all of five of their third-down opportunities in the first half.
Nutt said the offensive line had perhaps its worst performance of the season. And without Jones, McFadden was unable to run the WildHog formation as effectively as it was in the South Carolina win.
Arkansas finished with only 127 yards rushing and 289 yards of total offense.
“Well, that was a disappointing Saturday,” Nutt said.
In last year’s 31-14 win over Tennessee, Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis suffered a severe deep thigh bruise that forced him to miss the final four games of the season. But Nutt said he’s not sure if Jones’ injury is that serious.
“Hopefully, it’s not as deep. Peyton’s was a very deep, deep bruise,” Nutt said. “We’re hoping it’s not that deep.”
Arkansas’ Report Card vs. Tennessee
Quarterbacks — D
Starter Casey Dick looked out of sync early on, overthrowing his receivers and not completing several passes that he might normally make. He threw for only 13 yards on 3-of-7 passing in the first half, and he was benched at the end of the third quarter in favor of backup Nathan Emert. But Emert had a disastrous first series and finished 3-for-6 for 22 yards. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown.
Running Backs — C
Arkansas’ coaches had high hopes for the running game, but losing Felix Jones to a deep thigh bruise made things difficult. So did the offensive line’s lackluster performance. Running back Darren McFadden gained only 25 yards in the first half, but he picked up the slack some to finish with 117 yards on 22 carries. Michael Smith came in for Jones and scored Arkansas’ only touchdown.
Wide Receivers — C
It’s apparent that Marcus Monk is not fully recovered from two knee surgeries, but he still had three catches for 26 yards. Lucas Miller added two receptions for 31 yards, but the Razorbacks didn’t get much more after that. The inconsistency at quarterback didn’t help, though.
Offensive Line — F
Typically, the offensive line is one of the bright spots for the Hogs. But the front line had a forgettable performance. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt admitted the offensive line had perhaps its worst showing of the season, and it’s hard to argue. The blockers had trouble opening up holes for McFadden, as well as avoiding false-start penalties.
Defensive Line — D-
Arkansas’ defensive line was slightly better than the offensive line, but not by much. Defensive end Malcolm Sheppard had a bad day, picking up three offsides penalties to his four tackles. The rest of the defensive line had trouble stopping the run and putting pressure on Tennessee quarterback Erik Ainge. The Hogs again had no sacks.
Linebackers — C
Middle linebacker Weston Dacus recorded seven tackles, and the senior made a few big plays that got him noticed for the right reasons. Strongside linebacker Freddie Fairchild added 10 tackles, but the unit as a whole could have done more to contain the Volunteers.
Secondary — D
Michael Grant was beat on several pass plays early on, and fellow cornerback Matterral Richardson picked up another personal-foul penalty to help set up Tennessee’s first field goal. Meanwhile, cornerback Jerell Norton and free safety Rashaad Johnson gave up UT’s first touchdown when they both came up empty while trying to tackle wide receiver Austin Rogers.
Special Teams — C
Kicker Alex Tejada was one of the few positives on special teams. The former Springdale High star connected on field goals of 31 and 42 yards. Felix Jones also returned a kickoff 48 yards to set up Arkansas’ first field goal. It was the Hogs’ play of the day. But Norton fumbled another punt, and the kickoff coverage team gave up a costly 78-yard return.
Coaching — D
Arkansas’ players didn’t look ready to play, which goes back to the coaches. Offensive coordinator David Lee also admitted he should have gone back to the team’s base formation after the offensive struggles early on. The playcalling was suspect at times, particularly the decision to give the football to fullback Peyton Hillis instead of McFadden on fourth-and-1. He was stopped for no gain.