Hogs limping into even matchup with Vanderbilt

The Arkansas Razorbacks stopped the bleeding last week with a 23-0 victory over Tulsa. In cliched fashion, the Hogs celebrated that victory until Sunday morning and then turned their thoughts to this week’s contest with the Vanderbilt Commodores.

The question this week is whether Arkansas’ wounded program continues to heal with a victory or does Vanderbilt rip off the Hogs’ bandages and prompt the bleeding to start all over again.

Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Reynold Razorback Stadium. The game will be televised by the SEC Network as an hors d’oeuvre for more important SEC contests, ones that will have a bearing on rankings and bowl assignments.

Right now the Commodores (3-5, 0-4 SEC) and Razorbacks (2-6, 0-4 SEC) are mired at the bottom of what remains the nation’s most competitive conference. The winner of the game may very well avoid finishing last in the league’s overall standings by virtue of the victory.

The Commodores’ final three games are less difficult than the Hogs. Vandy closes out their season with an open date before traveling to Missouri on Nov. 10 and then playing host to Ole Miss on Nov. 17, and Tennessee on Nov. 24.

Arkansas vs. Vanderbilt

When comparing season stats, Saturday’s game looks pretty even. Here’s a quick comparison:

Points Per Game: Ark 25.8, Van 23.1
1st Downs: Ark 19.4, Van 19.9
Rushing: Ark 172.1, Van 141.6
Passing: Ark 197.8, Van 235.4.
Offense: Ark 369.9, Van 376.5.
3rd-down %: Ark 32%, Van 34%
Opponent’s Rushing: Ark 141.5, Van 195.4
Opponent’s Passing: Ark 267.8, Van 212.8
Opponent’s Offense: Ark 409.2, Van 408.1
Opponent’s 3rd-down %: Ark 33%, Van 47%

I’m guessing Missouri and Ole Miss will be favored. Tennessee might be, too, in the season-ender, but since the game is in Nashville, it might be more of a pick-em contest.

As for the Razorbacks, Arkansas also enjoys an open date on Nov. 3 before playing host to No. 5 LSU on Nov. 10 and then closing out the season with road games at Mississippi State on Nov. 17 and at Missouri on Black Friday. The Razorbacks will be underdogs in all three, just as they are this week against Vandy.

Vanderbilt started out as a 1.5-point favorite over the Hogs, but the line moved down to 1. So, both squad’s best chance on paper to win another game this season might be Saturday.

When comparing stats, the game looks about as even as it can be.

The offensive stats point out that both have had trouble scoring points, but that the Razorbacks could have an advantage in the rushing game. That could be very beneficial if a host of injuries don’t get in the way.

The defensive stats show that the Razorbacks get off the field on third down better than Vanderbilt does, but that the Hogs’ defense has been more susceptible to big plays over the course of the season than Vandy.

For those that ascribe to the old Lou Holtz saying that stats are for losers, I guess you could say Vandy has been slightly more impressive with three wins to the Razorbacks’ two.

Being established in Nashville, Derek Mason’s Commodores didn’t suffer some of the growing pains early in the season that Chad Morris’ Razorbacks did when they blew non-conference games to Colorado State and North Texas.

In fact, the difference in the two teams is how competitively Vanderbilt has played much of the year.

Vandy gave No. 3 Notre Dame a big-time scare on the third week of the season, falling, 22-17, at South Bend, Ind. Likewise the Commodores led No. 9 Florida in the second half before succumbing, 37-27, to the Gators in Nashville. Last week No. 12 Kentucky squeaked by Vandy, 14-7, at Lexington.

As the Commodores often are, they are a hard-luck team this season. Had the ball bounced a little bit differently here or there, Vanderbilt could have stunned any one of those highly ranked squads.

Arkansas does have a chance to win this game, but make no mistake, the beat-up Razorbacks will have to play their most complete game of the season to get a victory.

The Razorbacks have a wounded backfield with starting quarterback Ty Storey coming off a concussion that kept him out of the Tulsa victory and with Devwah Whaley and T.J. Hammonds out for the game at running back. Rakeem Boyd has run the ball very well when he has been able to, but the promising tailback missed much of the second halves of the last two games with injuries.

Arkansas’ offensive line continues to have issues with starting left tackle Colton Jackson’s back spasms and starting left guard Johnny Gibson’s knee trouble.

On defense, tackle Armon Watts, who is having a strong season, is dealing with an upper leg bruise, while cornerback Montaric Brown has a groin injury. Cornerback Nate Dalton is suspended for the week by Morris for picking up a stupid penalty for slapping the face mask of Tulsa returner last week.

But all of that is football. Most teams face similar struggles at various points in the season. Some are just better equipped with depth to hold up through injuries and work through self-inflicted woes from knuckled-headed actions like Dalton’s.

It’s going to be interesting and telling to see what type of effort the Razorbacks can muster against Vandy. If Arkansas doesn’t play hard and execute well, the Commodores won’t just beat the Razorbacks, they might just embarrass them.

However, if the Hogs do play well and come out with a victory, it will be an accomplishment that the Razorbacks can build on not only during their open date but also for next season. Winning back-to-back games would be a solid accomplishment for a team that has frittered away so many opportunities this season.