Alabama vs Arkansas Game Review

Prior to the Arkansas blowout, I ran into a friend of mine and her husband (his Noles were impressive Sat night) at the Houndstooth.  We talked a little bit about the blog and he clairvoyantly asked me how in the world could I write reviews after our massive blowout victories.  I mean, what’s to analyze when a Mike Tyson right cross connects with Zach Galifianakis’ face, right?  Well, for the third week in a row you guys will get to find out because once again Alabama’s Pasadena bound bus obliterated yet another woefully unworthy opponent.  This week the road kill formerly known as the Hogs decided to take the drama out of the game early by laying down in the middle of the road so that road graters like Yeldon, Drake and Henry could trample all over them.  This bacon wasn’t just grilled.  It was ground up into teeny (but tasty) little bacon bits.  To dine on swine is divine, and nearly everyone got a taste of it before the night was over.

But the question still remains – how can we analyze a game that saw Alabama roll up 532 yards of total offense (they even pulled the starters in the third quarter)?  How does one pick apart a defense that only allowed SEVEN completed passes?  Before you applaud the Bama D you should remember this is the same Arkansas offense that completed FOUR passes last week.  Arkansas is not just bad, they’re horrific!  From now on when I hear the name “Bielema”, I can’t help but associate it with an “enema” because that’s what it must have felt like for him after watching his team lose by a combined 104-7 over the last two weeks.  Mr Walton, you have a cleanup on aisle seven…and eight….and nine…

So, here we go.  In the same way we’d criticize an egg for getting beaten or applaud a Vitamix for pureeing fruit, we now bring you the Arkansas review that saw the Hogs get…Bielema’d!

Alabama on Offense

For the third week in a row (and for the 14th consecutive quarter if you count the second half of the Ole Miss game) the Alabama offense reminded you about why you were so darn excited to kick this season off.  We all waited with anticipation to see our fifth year senior quarterback lead a passing attack that featured the playmaking threats of a fleet of skilled wide receivers.  And we knew that Bama’s ground game could be equally impressive due to a stable full of running backs that would even make Bob Baffert jealous.  This was to be a beautiful offensive year.  But, a funny thing happened along the way lighting up the scoreboard.  We found out that those unsung big uglies on the offensive line should be sung after all.  Without them, the Tide offense was just an engineless Maserati sitting in the driveway.  With them, the Tide offense resembles the might of the US Military, dominating on land and in the air.  And the sea?  Well, the Tide controls the seas, of course…

Killing Me Softly:  After watching the game live and once again on tape, it’s evident that the Hogs’ defense is very, very poorly coached.  Alabama continuously ran the same play (I’ll break this down in a post tomorrow) that featured a flow of blockers going one way and then a backside cut by the back going the other direction.  Arkansas never changed a thing on defense so they continually were gutted by this play.  Yeldon for 27 yards.  Drake for 46 yards.  Henry for 80 yards.  Arkansas never kept the backside contained and, on Henry’s run, they overpursued so badly that Henry didn’t even need any blocks to score.  Pitiful “effort” and scheming by the Arkansas defense led to 352 yards rushing.

Baby Got Backs:  I almost feel sorry for Burton Burns and Doug Nussmeier.  I mean, how do you equally and fairly distribute touches to the most ridiculous stable of running backs in the nation.  Pro rosters would kill to have backs like Yeldon, Drake and Henry on their rosters.  Tenpenny has been great, as well, and Tyren Jones (redshirting) was the player of the game in the scrimmage we attended.  What a group – and to think it will continue to get better and better….

Boom Boom Pow:  Have you noticed a sweet little trend over the last couple of weeks in the passing game?  Future defenses (John Chavis, are you reading this blog?) are going to have to honor the Tide backs coming out of the backfield because they’ve been getting frequent flier miles in the air assault.  Last week, Drake and Yeldon caught five passes for 74 yards (and dropped two more that would have been big gainers).  This week the running backs combined for six catches for 60 yards and a touchdown when you include Jalston Fowler as the fullback.  Just a little something extra to keep defensive coordinators up late at night….

Deny:  Not to cast any dispersions upon anyone, but have you noticed that Alabama’s offensive line hasn’t given up a sack since the Ole Miss game?  Chad Lindsay entered the lineup during the Ole Miss game.  Just sayin.  Credit also has to go to AJ for getting the ball out quickly the few times he was pressured this week.  Meanwhile, the Bama offense has gained 477, 668 and 532 yards in the three games Lindsay has started.  Not likely a coincidence…

Pull!:  This week the running game featured Lindsay pulling from the center position – a very difficult thing for a center to do.  It’s going to be interesting to see what happens at this position when Ryan Kelly is healthy again.  I can tell you from watching every single Alabama running play over and over again that Lindsay is holding the point of attack significantly better than Kelly.

We Have a Winner:  I told you guys that Shepherd was ridiculous last week with the number of pancakes he had against Kentucky and it appears he was rewarded this week with infinitely more snaps than true freshman Grant Hill.

Once, Tice, Fee Times a Mady:  The Bama offense has been significantly better on third down conversions of late with the first team O converting four of their five attempts against Arkansas.

The Fat Boys Are Back:  The jumbo short yardage package of Fowler, Vogler and Howard is virtually undefeated since Yeldon’s fumble near the goal line against A&M.  Against Ole Miss, Bama trotted this group out there to get the ball off their own goal line and they’ve been pushing people around ever since.  This week’s wrinkle was using Fowler primarily as a fullback and he did some heavy damage on Drake’s one yard TD run that made it 14-0.

Is It Any Wonder:  Facing a 2nd and Goal at the Arky 4, Bama trotted out their jumbo package once again but this time DeAndrew White lined up as an in-line tight end instead of splitting out wide as a receiver.  Not surprisingly, this play was a play action pass that forced McCarron to choose between a wide open Fowler and a wide open White.  Fowler got the touchdown but it was a neat little wrinkle to the jumbo set package.

Amore:  For the second week in a row Amari Cooper was more involved in the passing game and he seemed to show a little more bust this week in his routes.  His best play was a silly block (second week in a row for this as well) he had on Yeldon’s 24 yard TD run.  We’ll probably profile this play later this week as well.

Beautiful:  Our favorite passing play was the touchdown to OJ Howard.  With Howard on the right side of the line, Alabama lined up three wide receivers to the left and they all ran patterns from the left side of the field to the right side and this vacated the entire side for Howard’s drag route for a 17 yard touchdown catch and run.

Alabama on Defense

So how do you break down a defense that played against probably the worst passing team they’ll face in their lifetimes?  I mean, in the past two weeks the Arkansas QBs are now a horrific 11 of 39 passing and it seems as though every one of their pass plays is designed to be a jump ball.  So, the passing game was so bad that we are primarily going to focus on the running game – and that’s how we’ll break the D down this week.

Coming into the game, Arkansas running game was supposed to give us a bit of a preview of how LSU will fare against the Bama run defense.  Well, this game is any indication, LSU will have a difficult time of it.  Alabama limited the Hogs’ vaunted downhill rushing attack to 126 yards and all but 37 of them were gained in the second half.  CJ Mosley held up very well against the run as an inside backer (prior to this year CJ didn’t have a run stopping role in our base defenses) and the front four seemed to dominate the piggies up front.  All in all, it was a shutout performance with very few flaws…

Do You See What I See:  Bielema was grinning like a Cheshire cat when  he came back on the field for the second half because he said they found a way to run on Alabama.  To their credit, Arkansas did pick up some yards by having their backs start towards the center of the line and then bounce the play outside.  Arkansas suddenly felt they could get outside of the Bama flanks in the run game and, on a few occasions, they did.  I’d expect Cam Cameron and Les Miles to try a little of this in a couple of weeks.

Bad Boys:  So, if Eddie Jackson is healthy enough to play on the kick coverage teams (he recorded a fumble recovery) then why on earth is he no longer starting at corner.  We presumed his ankle was still hurting and that’s why Sylve was playing so much.  Now it appears Jackson is fine.  Hmmmm.  Discipline issue?

Aw Naw:  This song seems to appropriately describe CJ Mosley in pass coverage.  He allowed one catch by the tight end but when they came back to the well one more time, he was ready.  He deflected a pass that was intercepted by Clinton-Dix and you could almost hear him say, “Aw Naw – not again.”  Mosley is so instinctive against the pass and he almost had a pick six later in the game.

Hurts So Good:  The question mark coming into this year was how well CJ Mosley would hold up as an inside linebacker against the run.  Rolo McClain was around 255 lbs.  Donte Hightower was around 260.  Nico Johnson was in the 245 range.  Mosley is around 235 or so but he’s being asked to play like a McClain or Hightower in the Bama scheme.  While he doesn’t have the size, he has an innate ability to avoid or disengage from blocks and make plays time and time again.  This allows him to deliver some vicious licks at the line.  This is something Trey DePriest could certainly get a LOT better at.

Lucky Star:  Jarrick Williams is playing the Star role in the dime packages and he’s been exceptional.  This is the role that Landon Collins was in until Clinton-Dix was held out of the lineup.  Now with Vinnie Sunseri gone, Collins will retain his deep safety role and Williams will continue to play near the line of scrimmage where he’s excelled this season.

Our Cousin Vinnie:  Our seats are right behind the Alabama trainer’s bench so we get to see first hand how the knee tests are conducted.  The field tests are almost never wrong so when Sunseri slammed his helmet down and he screamed into the night, you knew it was over for him.  Sunseri’s presence in the running game and as a blitzer will be missed but his passion, energy and leadership will be missed more.  As we said above, Landon Collins and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will now assume the deep safety roles and there probably isn’t a better duo at safety in the country.  To me, this is the best pass defense we can put on the field.

Tide-bytes

  • Issac Luatua and Leon Brown had awful performances on the second string line.  Awful.
  • Cody Mandell doesn’t have enough attempts to register his stats nationally but, if he did, his 46.9 punting average would rank him as the fourth best punter in the entire nation.
  • Cade Foster’s 48 yarder was well struck and he’s turned into quite a weapon!
  • Oddity of oddity – Austin Shepherd actually pulled like a guard early in the game.  Tackles rarely are asked to do this and Alabama tackles almost never do this.
  • While Alabama only registered one sack by Denzel Devall, Brandon Allen was on the run throughout much of the evening from a pretty decent pass rush.
  • One Arkansas shift ended up with Adrian Hubbard guarding a slot receiver and had Deion Belue blitzing off the corner.  Man, it sure was weird seeing a 6’6, 250 corner…
  • Jarrick Williams’ emergence this season has been a true blessing with so many injuries in the secondary.  He’s doing a phenomenal job in dime packages, playing the role that Landon Collins was playing before he was moved to safety.
  • Teams must be giddy when John Fulton trots onto the field.  They sure do attack him quickly when he comes in.  Of the seven passes that were completed two big ones were against #10.
  • How about the love Nick Saban showered on Cyrus Jones when he undercut the route for an intereception?  That was awesome.  You have to love teaching kids and then seeing that coaching translate on the field in such a great way.
  • The Alabama offense showed yet another wrinkle with a one back, four-wide set that featured the slot wide receivers each running bubble screen routes.  This forced the LBs to flare out and Alabama attacked this with a draw up the middle.

Conclusion

After watching the tape, the question has to be asked:  was Alabama that good or was Arkansas that bad?  The answer is probably a little bit of both.  Credit the line, the scheme and the backs for making the plays on the backside cuts but we also have to question the sanity of the Arkansas coaches – why did they not adjust to this?  Meanwhile, the Hogs’ passing game was so anemic that it was really difficult to glean a lot from this performance.  We can tell you that the Razorbacks’ running game was expected to provide a very physical challenge to Alabama’s front six or seven but that never seemed to materialize against the first string defense.  So, it was another week and another blowout for an Alabama team that seems to be peaking at just the right time.  On a day filled with a bunch of crazy upsets in the SEC, it was good to see that the king is still very much alive and well at the top of the conference.  Long live the king!

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