Vanderbilt and Arkansas enter their Southeastern Conference matchup Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark., with offensive units that don’t typically stay on the field very long.
Arkansas’ average time of possession is 28:48 and Vanderbilt averages a league-low 25:23.
But both teams’ defenses are on the field for 30-plus minutes for entirely different reasons.
Arkansas (5-2, 2-2) can score, and score fast.
Vanderbilt – not so much. The points are harder to come by for the Commodores (2-5, 1-3). Thus, the offense isn’t on the field as long and the punts – a league-high 54 – are more frequent.
“When they go out there, they are getting it done,” Vanderbilt wide receiver John Cole said of Arkansas. “So far we haven’t done a very good job of that – that’s the difference. Any offense that is clicking you’ve got to have both the running game and passing game. Both build upon each other. We really haven’t had much of either. That is something we are working on and hopefully we get things together.”
Arkansas, ranked 19th, leads the SEC in passing offense with 352.1 yards a game, is second in total offense (477.7 yards per game) and fourth in scoring offense (33.0 points per game).
Leading the way for the Razorbacks is Ryan Mallett. The 6-foot-6, 238-pound quarterback has thrown for 2,040 yards, averaging a conference-best 291.4 passing yards a game, with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Plus, running back Knile Davis is beginning to emerge as a threat on the ground, rushing for 176 yards and three touchdowns against Mississippi.
“When you got a quarterback there that looks like he is as tall as (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar throwing it over everybody... plus if you shut down the pass they are going to run it,” Vanderbilt Robbie Caldwell said. “What do you do? You rush two and drop nine? We're in a dilemma but they are working hard at it, trying to get something done.”
The Commodores wish they could give opposing defenses the same sort of fits but right now they are just looking for some consistency.
Caldwell promoted running backs coach Des Kitchings to offensive coordinator earlier this week, moving Jimmy Kiser back to quarterbacks coach.
Vanderbilt is last in the SEC in scoring offense (18.9 points per game) and quarterback Larry Smith is averaging a league-low 143.6 passing yards a game.
“I think it is a little bit of everything, as far as me not making the correct reads, offensive linemen getting some blocks, wideouts dropping passes, running the wrong routes – it is just a little bit of everything, ” Smith said. “Hopefully we can come together as an offense and just hit on all cylinders. That would be huge for us this Saturday.”
Caldwell said he would like to get his “playmakers on offense” – running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy – more involved.
The duo has combined for nearly 700 rushing yards this season but just had 12 carries between them on Saturday against South Carolina.
“We didn’t use them affectively this past weekend,” Smith said of the sophomore running backs. “So hopefully we can get the ball in their hands and let them go to work."
Vanderbilt has shown it has the ability to break off the big play for a score, with nine touchdowns of at least 20 yards or more this season.
Lately, however, the Commodores have struggled to get near the end zone. They have made just 14 trips inside the 20-yard line this year – lowest in the SEC – and have scored just one touchdown in the last eight quarters.
“I hope we can start shortening the game some by keeping the ball,” Caldwell said. “(Arkansas) is very fortunate. They score when they get it. They are very talented offensively. We’ve got to manage the clock, score points as well. We have been pretty decent in the red zone. Just getting it there has been our problem so hopefully we can do better at that.”
• Starting cornerback Jamie Graham underwent knee surgery for a torn meniscus Wednesday morning and Caldwell said he could be out for as long as three to six weeks.
Graham injured his knee against South Carolina on Saturday. The junior finished the game and Caldwell said he didn’t know when the injury happened, but that Graham woke up feeling sore Sunday morning.
Graham, a Whites Creek product, missed the first three games of the season due to a groin injury. Freshman Steven Clarke is expected to take his place. Clarke had eight tackles and a sack against South Carolina.
“We certainly miss him. We miss his leadership and his effort,” Caldwell said of Graham. “It is one of those things, we have to move up. That is why our plan going in was to play freshmen and get ready just because of numbers.”
• Center Joey Bailey is doubtful for the Arkansas matchup. Bailey, a senior, did not play against South Carolina due to a high ankle sprain he suffered the week before at Georgia.
Freshman Logan Stewart made his first career start against the Gamecocks and was again snapping the ball during practice Wednesday.
• Arkansas defensive tackle DeQuinta Jones was arrested and charged early Wednesday morning with marijuana possession.
Jones, 19, was pulled over in Fayetteville for not having vehicle license lights and it was discovered Jones was in possession of 8.7 grams of marijuana, according to reports.
During his weekly SEC teleconference call Wednesday morning, Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said the situation would be addressed and that he was “very disappointed” in Jones. Lavunce Askew is expected to start in his place.
Injury-wise, Mallett and wide receivers Greg Childs and Joe Adams were dinged up against Mississippi last Saturday.
Mallett suffered a bruised right shoulder injury but Petrino said as Tuesday’s practice went on “he got better and better and more confident and started delivering the ball the way he can.”
Childs and Adams both went out with ankle injuries and their status is “day to day.”