Alabama is on a roll (Tide!) these days and in their dismantling of Georgia State and Kentucky, Alabama’s offensive line has improved by leaps and bounds. Their next opportunity to improve and prepare for their looming matchup against LSU comes against the Piggies from Arkansas. Arkansas boasts a front four that leads the conference with 20 sacks in 7 games so the offensive line should be challenged quite a bit more than they have been in recent games. Defensive end Chris Smith (6’3, 262) leads the conference with six sacks while his partner in crime, Trey Flowers (6’4, 256), has four sacks from the other defensive end position. So, Cyrus Kouandjio, Austin Shepherd and Grant Hill will certainly have their hands full on Saturday. But, that’s about where Alabama’s challenges should end.
Last week the good people of Arkansas served up bacon, ham, pork and pigs feet to South Carolina as they celebrated their homecoming by getting taken to the slaughterhouse. The Gamecocks thrashed the Razorbacks, sending the piggies crying “wee, wee, wee” all the way home. Now, new coach Bret Bielema has to take his downtrodden swine on the road to Tuscaloosa to take in the #1 ranked Crimson Tide. The Arky team morale is pretty darn low after having lost four straight games to Rutgers, Texas A&M, Florida and USC and with the bye week coming after the Bama game, you can bet that Arkansas will likely be ready to just get this game over with. That sets the stage for Saturday night’s “tussle” – here’s what else you should watch for while Alabama slices up some pork belly sliders…
Alabama on Offense
After watching the Gamecock offense thrash the Arkansas defense last week, Doug Nussmeier had better bring a pretty thick playbook into Saturday night’s game because if the South Carolina game is any indication Alabama should expect to have the ball a lot. Steve Spurrier’s offense controlled the ball for 43 minutes compared to just 17 for Arkansas. Wow – that’s insane. That’s the equivalent of the Gamecocks having the ball for three straight quarters! That certainly made for a humiliating few hours of complete and total domination and it’s not even like USC is all that great. The Arkansas defense combined a lack of talent with numerous misalignments and that set the stage for a brutal homecoming performance. I think it’s unlikely much will change for them this week.
Meanwhile, Alabama comes into the game virtually hitting on all cylinders. AJ McCarron has been silky smooth over the last two weeks as the offense has been on time and in rhythm on nearly every drive. Of course that’s a credit to the rebuilt offensive line which continues to get better and better each week. Last week the line opened enough holes in the running game for 299 yards rushing and they didn’t allow a single sack. Even though the Arky defense is statistically the best SEC defense Alabama has faced thus far, things are looking up for the offense and we think things will continue to hum along this week.
- McCarron will have another big day throwing the football. Look for him to pass for over 280 yards. Tyler Murphy threw for 240 and the Gamecocks threw for 260 as a team so AJ should have a lot of success thru the air.
- Alabama won’t have two backs over 100 yards this week. Arkansas’ rush defense is ranked 6th in the conference and held up fairly well for the first 8 quarters they were on the field against the Gamecocks. Ok, so it only seemed like 8 quarters for them. They did limit Florida to just over 100 yards of rushing so this group can be a little frisky against the run.
- Alabama backs will combine for at least 170 yards. If Alabama scores early, this number will increase significantly. Ever see a pig wave a white flag? You might on Saturday.
- Alabama’s receivers should have a field day. Look for at least two receivers to get over 60 yards receiving. As usual, we think OJ Howard will make a big play in the passing game – USC used their big tight end for a couple of big gainers against the Hogs.
- The offensive line will not have a Kentucky-esque performance. They will likely struggle to open as many running lanes and they will be challenged to keep AJ clean this week. Look for two sacks this week against AJ.
- Alabama should gain over 385 yards of total offense with more than half of it coming thru the air.
Alabama on Defense
Arkansas is almost more anemic on offense than Kentucky is, and folks that’s saying something. If you thought Kentucky’s passing game was bad, well, wait until you get a look at this Razorbacks crew. Quarterback Brandon Allen is completing a woeful 48% of his passes and his passing efficiency numbers are so bad that he isn’t even listed among the 15 best SEC quarterbacks (there are only 14 teams, you know). Both of the Kentucky QBs, Nick Marshall and Justin Worley are all ranked ahead of Allen. Mercy. Last week, Arkansas completed only 4 of 14 passes for 30 yards against the worst passing efficiency defense in the conference. Yeesh.
Now, the one very interesting matchup the Arkansas offense will pose is in their running game. Bret Bielema is a fan of the downhill running game, big tight ends and fullbacks. Eventually, he wants to have a power running game much like Alabama’s or LSU’s and even now they rank a very respectable 5th in the conference in rushing. CJ Mosley will be asked to take on fullbacks in the running game on Saturday and his performance will have to be closely monitored. Why? Because LSU will feature a similar running game that features fullbacks posing as wrecking balls so the Arkansas game will be a bit of a preview of how well we’ll fare against LSU’s rushing attack. Unlike Miley Cyrus, there will be no twerking with these Razorback “Wrecking Balls” and we certainly hope the Bama defense isn’t exposed like she is in her “Wrecking Ball” video!
- Arkansas will not score more than 10 points. Florida held them to 10 and South Carolina held them to 7. Alabama’s defense is better than both of them.
- Arkansas does protect the quarterback very well, ranking second in the fewest sacks allowed. Alabama will be lucky to register one sack Saturday night.
- You will be impressed with Arkansas RB Alex Collins. He’s a 5 star true freshman and he’s very, very good. Look for him to rush for over 60 yards (he averages 103 per game). He’s also a weapon in the passing game.
- Interceptions. At least two of them. And a pick six. I feel it. Allen completes less than half of his passes so that other 50% is sailing off somewhere, right?
- Look for the Arky tight ends to be a frequent target. They are really big and seem to pose the biggest matchup issue for Bama’s defense in the passing game. They’ll combine for over 4 catches and they’ll be in two tight end sets quite a bit.
- This will be the first offense to physically challenge Alabama’s defense and if Alabama isn’t prepared for this, then it may make for a sluggish start on defense. Arkansas wants to run the ball downhill but Alabama’s defense excels at stuffing the run. I think Arkansas will likely rush for over 120 yards. Probably over 150. Alabama only gives up 87 yards a game so this should make for a fun matchup!
- You figure Arkansas will have to pass so I’d give them around 150 yards passing. But, wow, Allen loves to throw into coverage. As an Arkansas fan, I’d cringe every single time Allen was asked to throw the football.
Arkansas ranks 10th in net punting which means the Christion Jones punt return video game should be in full effect once again. Both the Hogs’ kicker Zack Hocker and Cade Foster have only missed one field goal each this season so if either team lines up for a field goal the odds are that it will be good.
This will be a stiffer test than either Georgia State or Kentucky but, honestly, that’s not saying much. Arkansas comes in about as low as they can be having lost four straight games. The margins of defeat for Arkansas have continuously gotten worse so it’s a reasonable assumption to think that these little piggies will graciously jump into the smoker and lay down for dinner. The Arkansas running game and their ability to slow down our running game should make the game clock move quickly, leaving the margin of victory closer than you might think.
Score prediction: Alabama 34 Arkansas 9