KNOXVILLE - Jim Chaney replied with a hint of friendly sarcasm.
Tennessee hasn't scored in the second half of its last four games, and the Volunteers' offensive coordinator certainly knows it, though he momentarily pretended not to after Wednesday morning's practice.
"Has it been that long?" he asked rhetorically. "Wow, that's a long time."
UT's offense hasn't been lighting up the scoreboard much at any point of their last four games, sinking to 96th nationally in scoring and 97th in total offense. The 40 points in the four-game stretch have all been in the first half, with further ineptitude taking over after halftime.
Of the Vols' 18 second-half drives in the last four games, seven ended in punts, six on failed fourth-down conversion attempts, three interceptions and one fumble. UT had no second-half first downs against Alabama and totaled less than 14 minutes of possession against LSU and South Carolina. Sacks and penalties have accompanied turnovers as drive-killers.
UT went on drives of 11, 11 and 10 plays last week against Middle Tennessee State, effectively eating up most of the clock while tinkering with a run game that needs plenty of work.
Chaney said there was no one reason behind the second-half problems.
"I wish there was," he said. "If there was one, it would be easily solvable. We continue to step on our toes at different times in different areas. It's about execution and getting the ball in the end zone."
The Vols will have to find the end zone plenty at eighth-ranked Arkansas on Saturday. The Razorbacks have outscored opponents 164-80 in the second half this season, including a 102-31 advantage in the last four games. Arkansas rallied from double-digit deficits against Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt during its five-game win streak.
Chaney and Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson were on the same staff with the St. Louis Rams for the 2006-2007 season, so there's some familiarity there.
"Multiplicity. He does a lot of stuff, it makes you really think a lot," Chaney said. "That's the one thing we've tried to worry about a little bit as we in is just trying to figure out exactly what they're going to try to do to attack us. It's been difficult because they do a lot of stuff. I think we have to move to simplicity for us."
Arnett coming on
DeAnthony Arnett failed to catch a pass against LSU and Alabama, but the freshman receiver has six catches for 106 yards the past two weeks.
"I think it's the maturation process," receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "He's maturing, and also you switch quarterbacks, it takes time to get in the groove with the passing game and the passer. I think he's getting more comfortable with everything now, and I think a lot of his skills are coming to the forefront. He's doing a lot better."
Five more receptions by the 6-foot, 175-pound Arnett would put him second all-time at UT for catches by a true freshman behind only Kelley Washington's 64-catch season in 2001.
"I feel like he went though a little bit of the freshman blues," Chaney said. "I thought last week he stepped out there and made some nice plays for us."
Cutting the catastrophes
Since allowing 13 plays of 25 yards or more in the first five games of the season, UT's defense has allowed just three of what they call "catastrophe" plays in the last four games. The Vols have cut down on the number of misalignments and missed assignments and tackled better.
"Over the last two weeks," said defensive backs coach Terry Joseph, "we've played better on the back end. One of the bigger things that we've eliminated is not giving up the chunk plays. Obviously it affected us and hurt us as a team earlier in the season. It's one thing we've continued to stress."
Arkansas has 10 offensive touchdowns of 20 or more yards, and six Razorback players average a dozen or more yards per reception.
"They're going to move the ball," coach Derek Dooley said. "They're going to hit a lot of plays. They do against everybody. When they get down in that red [zone], you've got to keep them to field goals."
Linebacker Austin Johnson (elbow) and tight end Mychal Rivera (foot) were both in non-contact jerseys during Wednesday's practice, but both are expected to be fine for Saturday, Dooley said…defensive end Ben Martin worked out on the side during the open part of Wednesday's practice…Dooley said kicker Michael Palardy has kicked the past two days after missing the MTSU game and appears ready to go…backup kicker Chip Rhome remains out with a pulled muscle, so Derrick Brodus, who kicked three extra points and a field goal in an emergency role last week, will travel as the second kicker.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...