The Tennessee Volunteers (2-3) will travel to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks (2-3) in a battle between two fifth-year senior quarterbacks on Saturday.
The Vols plan to start Jarrett Guarantano on Saturday. He has started every game this season for Tennessee but was benched midgame against Kentucky due to his poor performance. Against Georgia and Kentucky, he threw three interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns) and fumbled four times (three of which were recovered by the other team and one of which was returned for a touchdown). Last year, he started only seven games due to inconsistent and poor play, but still made appearances in all 13 games.
However, Guarantano bounced back with a decent performance in the Vols’ last outing in a game against Alabama. He threw for 162 yards and two touchdowns while not turning the ball over once.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt announced Guarantano as the starter after practice on Wednesday.
“He understands our expectations, and, you know, I feel like he’s had another good week,” Pruitt said. “He’s continuing to do the things that I’m talking about — getting the guys around him to play at a higher level.”
On the other sideline, Feleipe Franks is the head of the Razorbacks’ offense. Franks is a transfer from Florida who suffered a season-ending ankle injury early last year. Kyle Trask took over for Franks for the rest of the season and played impressively, earning him the starting job at Florida this year. This led to Franks’ transfer to Arkansas for his redshirt senior season. In his last outing, Franks played well, totaling 239 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers against a good Texas A&M team.
The two quarterbacks have a history of playing each other. Franks is 3-1 in his time at Florida over Guarantano when both players were on their school’s campus, including a last-second 63-yard touchdown pass to beat the Vols in 2017.
However, the two schools have a different history. Tennessee leads the all-time series 13-5 dating back to 1907. Arkansas has won the last two matchups but the teams have not faced off since 2015.
This time, the Vols are coming off of a bye week and Pruitt has previously made major improvements to his team after a break. In his first season, he led Tennessee to a road win over the No. 21 Auburn Tigers coming off of a bye.
The last time Tennessee was in action was against the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, when the Vols were blown out 48-17 for their third straight loss.
Freshman Jalin Hyatt stood out with two catches for 86 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown catch. Senior Josh Palmer also had a touchdown reception to go along with his four catches for 57 yards.
These Tennessee wide receivers will have their work cut out for them against a Razorback defense that ranks fifth in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game. The runningbacks may have an easier time, though.
Arkansas ranks third to last in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game with just Vanderbilt and Ole Miss below them. Vol runningbacks Eric Gray and Ty Chandler combined for only 94 yards on the ground against Alabama but have had success throughout the season with the help of their offensive line.
This offensive line has used the bye week to heal, with Jerome Carvin and Wanya Morris battling injuries. Carvin has been battling turf toe which caused him to miss a week of practice, but he is back to being healthy. Pruitt did not provide an update on Morris but said the line as a whole has been healing.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tennessee is returning linebacker Jeremy Banks. The defense as a whole against Alabama looked shaky at times but played well against Kentucky and Georgia considering the amount of time they had to spend on the field due to turnovers by the offense. This week should be an easier task than Alabama though, as Arkansas ranks fifth to last in offensive yards per game in the SEC this season.
Tennessee had high expectations at the beginning of the season that are beginning to seem bleak. Meanwhile, Arkansas has far exceeded their expectations for this season. Both programs face different situations, but this game is equally as important to each.
Ryan Sylvia, assistant sports editor – Tennessee 24, Arkansas 17
The matchup will be sloppy but Tennessee will come out on top. The Vols will find success in the running game but Guarantano will struggle to connect with wide receivers. The decider of the game will ultimately be the turnover margin and how well Tennessee’s defensive line performs against the Arkansas rush attack and the success of their attempts to put pressure on Franks.
Christian Knox, sports editor/managing editor – Tennessee 23, Arkansas 13
Jeremy Pruitt likes to run the ball against good rushing defenses, so it is a good bet that this will be another big Eric Gray and Ty Chandler game. Kicker Brent Cimaglia should see more than a couple of attempts, as Tennessee will move the chains but stall in the red zone. Arkansas will take advantage of gaps in the Tennessee defense at times, but Tennessee’s solid recruiting under Pruitt will be the difference in this game.
Game Time and Coverage
Kick-off is at 7:30 EST in Fayetteville, Arkansas. The game airs on SEC Network and TNJN will have more coverage following the game.
Edited by Gracie-Lee Strange and Christian Knox
Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Football Twitter (@Vol_Football)