FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - Florida has The Swamp. Georgia has The Dawg Pound. And at least on Saturday evening, Arkansas had The Trough.
No. 8 Tennessee found this out first hand after torrential downpours and hindering winds wreaked havoc at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, turning the newly renovated facility into a feeding pit of mush and slop.
Despite the adverse playing conditions, the Vols (2-0, 1-0) escaped the Hogs (1-1, 0-1) and their barnyard disaster in the teams' Southeastern Conference opener, winning 13-3 after a fourth-quarter offensive push.
"I think this team showed an awful lot of character," said UT head coach Phillip Fulmer. "I told our team that this would be a defining-type football game. We knew how significant it would be to go to a hostile environment and play a good football team."
Arkansas held a 3-0 lead much of the game after Brennan O'Donohoe hit a 24-yard field goal with one minute, 22 seconds to play in the first quarter.
The Vols rallied to score the final 13 points of the game, which all came in the last 10 minutes.
Offensive impotency was the topic of conversation for both coaching staffs coming into the game. Neither the Vols nor the Razorbacks converted on third down in their respective openers, Tennessee going 0-for-14 against Syracuse and Arkansas converting zer
o of its 15 chances versus UNLV.
And even though neither offense proved stellar in the game, which was twice delayed due to lightning strikes within a mile of the stadium, it was Tennessee that survived the carnage.
"I think at no time did our offense get rattled, even after some of the mistakes that we made over the course of the game," Fulmer said of the Vols, who amassed 392 total yards, with 206 of those coming from the driving legs and feet of tailback Travis St
Stephens, at just 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, carried the ball a school-record 41 times. The fifth-year senior also scored the game's only touchdown, putting the Vols up 10 with just under a minute to play.
"I'd always hoped he wouldn't have to do that," said offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, "but I thought he was capable of it and he was running well.
"We talked about giving him a break a few times, and we did give him some rest, but there was a big dropoff when we did."
Sanders added the notion of staying on the ground with Stephens was made clearer because of quarterback Casey Clausen's dislike and inability to handle "wet-ball conditions."
"Obviously all the rain and the conditions made it hard to throw the football," Sanders said. "Everybody pretty much knows that Casey doesn't like throwing the wet ball, just doesn't throw it real well."
Someone forgot to tell Clausen he isn't good in the muck.
The sophomore completed 13 of his 17 passes for 136 yards, and didn't throw an interception for the first time since the Arkansas game from a year ago, a 63-20 win by the Vols.
"I think I finally played the way I'm capable of playing," Clausen said. "This week was one of our biggest tests, mentally. I thought we did a good job of handling the run game and passing schemes."
And while Clausen and Co. may appeared to have improved on offense, it was more of the same ineptitude for Arkansas and head coach Houston Nutt when they had the ball.
The Razorbacks scraped together a mere 92 total yards of offense on the night, only moving the ball 2 yards in the third quarter, when the monsoon raged in its greatest marvel.
A lot of the Hogs' problems came thanks in part to the Tennessee defense, even without All-American John Henderson manning the interior line.
"You've got to give our defense just a tremendous amount of credit to hold (running back) Cedric Cobbs to whatever he had, and get the picks, get the turnovers," Fulmer said of his defensive, which held Cobbs, a preseason All-SEC back to 55 yards on 15 ca
rries. "I think our defense is pretty stout... I think we're going to find out in the coming weeks if we can stop anyone in the nation."
The Vols now begin preparations for a matchup with No. 2 Florida ; Saturday's kickoff in Gainesville is set for 3:30 p.m.