GAME NOTES: Coming off a stunning loss at upstart Ole Miss last weekend, the
now seventh-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide seek to right the ship, as they take
on the Arkansas Razorbacks in an SEC showdown at the Donald W. Reynolds
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide have seen their run to another national
championship derailed with last weekend’s loss to the Rebels. It was
particularly frustrating, since Alabama held a 14-3 lead at the half, only to
fall to the hometown Rebels, 23-17. Now at 4-1 on the year, there is no room
for error the rest of the way.
Bret Bielema’s second season in Fayetteville has been a mixed bag, with
Arkansas coming into this game with a 3-2 overall record. The Razorbacks
almost posted a fourth straight win, but failed in their bid to do so on Sept.
27, falling in overtime to Texas A&M (35-28). Arkansas was idle this past
Alabama holds a 14-8 series advantage with Arkansas, and has won the last
seven matchups, including identical 52-0 shutouts in 2012 and 2013.
Bielema addressed the recent past with Alabama at his weekly press conference.
“People that think to past history a lot – especially negative ones other than
the learning experience that it was – kind of live in the past. That is
obviously not where we want to live.”
The Tide had an untimely gaffe with just over five minutes left in the game in
Oxford, as a crucial fumble on a kickoff allowed Ole Miss to earn the upset
victory. The Crimson Tide were only able to manage just under 400 yards of
total offense, a far cry from the season average of 554.6 ypg.
Alabama has had great balance overall, with 240.4 yards coming on the ground
and 314.2 through the air.
Quarterback Blake Sims has played extremely well, completing 70.3 percent of
his passes, for 1,319 yards and eight TDs.
A great deal of that production has gone the way of All-American candidate
Amari Cooper. The 6-foot-2 standout is the top receiver in the country,
posting eye-popping numbers with 52 receptions, for 746 yards and five TDs.
The ground game is in the capable hands of tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (407 yards,
5.3 ypc, 2 TDs) and Derrick Henry (357 yards, 5.1 ypc, 2 TDs).
Alabama’s defense allowed Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace to throw three second-half
touchdown passes in last week’s loss.
That hasn’t been the norm this season, as the Tide have been very stingy,
limiting foes to just 264.8 yards of total offense, while ranking third in the
nation in rush defense (64.0 ypg).
Safety Landon Collins is the next great Alabama defensive back. The 6-0, 220-
pound junior is playing at an All-American level, with a team-high 38 tackles.
Linebackers Reggie Ragland (28 tackles, 1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries), Trey
DePriest (23 tackles) and Xzavier Dickson (12 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks) are
active in the middle of the defense.
Moving the football has come easy for Arkansas as well, although the
Razorbacks aren’t as balanced as Alabama. Arkansas’ preferred mode of travel
is on the ground, with the team ranked sixth in the country at a hefty 316.6
yards per game. The result is a scoring average of 44.6 ppg, good for seventh
Tailbacks Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are a lethal duo. Collins is
averaging 124.2 yards per game and has amassed 621 yards and six TDs on 7.2
yards per carry. Williams nets just under 100 yards per game (97.2 ypg),
totaling 486 yards and eight TDs on 7.4 yards per tote. In all, Arkansas has
scored a whopping 20 rushing TDs in the first five games.
The rushing attack has made things easier on junior quarterback Brandon Allen,
who has completed just under 60 percent of his throws, for 751 yards, with
nine TDs against just one INT.
The top receiving threat is 6-2 junior Keon Hatcher, although he has just 13
receptions, for 231 yards and two TDs.
Saban is impressed with Arkansas’ turnaround this season.
“Arkansas is probably the most improved team in the country in terms of
comparing last year to this year,” said Saban. “They have really played very
well all season long. They had a great chance to beat Texas A&M, but came up
short in the end. They have been dominating in terms of running the football,
and really pass it effectively when they have needed to. The quarterback is
playing well for them, they have two good running backs, their offensive line
is not only big, but they do a good job of executing what they do. They have
only given up one sack all year long.”
The offense has been far more productive than the Arkansas defense, which is
yielding 403.2 yards per game. Big plays haven’t been frequent either, with
just eight sacks and seven forced turnovers in five games.
The top playmaker is senior linebacker Martrell Spaight, who has a team-best
43 tackles, with one interception and one fumble recovery. Sophomore tackle
Taiwan Johnson has just 11 total stops on the year, but almost half of them
have come behind the line of scrimmage (5), including a team-best 3.5 sacks.
This is Saban’s 100th game coached at Alabama. Expect the Crimson Tide to
deliver a win for their leader in this one, although Arkansas won’t go away
without a fight.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 33, Arkansas 24