Sandwich games in the SEC can be a tricky little proposition and the Arkansas game this week certainly qualifies as a sandwich game. Positioned between the Georgia game and the much anticipated showdown with A&M, here sits Bret Bielema’s little piggies from Arkansas – a commonly overlooked opponent.
The Hogs come into Tuscaloosa feeling pretty good about themselves after taking A&M to the wire (in a game the Razorbacks should have won) and after putting another torpedo (with a win) into Butch Jones’ sinking ship of Volunteers. Arkansas looks to be a long way away from their early season holy Toledo loss, but they still do show signs of being the same team that lost 16-12 to the MAC conference’s Rockets.
We’ve looked at Arkansas versus Tennessee and we studied Arkansas versus A&M and our illustrious staff feels pretty confident about this week’s W2W4. Let’s roll, Tide!
Alabama on Offense
Few people can find anything good in a heavy downpour other than wet socks and the look of a drowned puppy dog. However, Nick Saban’s two year quest to find Alabama’s old school identity was finally found in the mud and the muck between the hedges of Sanford Stadium. Bama Yellow Hammered the Bulldogs with 47 rushes, leaving the Georgia Humane Society screaming about Saban’s abusive cruelty to their beloved Uga. The focus and success of the Tide’s running game forced Georgia to commit their linebackers and safeties to the line of scrimmage which happily opened up the play action passing game for Jake Coker. Coker continues to evolve into the type of QB that Nick Saban is looking for and at 6’5, 230, Coker has a stronger arm and more mobility than any of Saban’s previous Alabama quarterbacks who are not named Blake Sims.
Basically, last week Lane Kiffin stumbled upon the secret formula for the Tide’s offensive success and not surprisingly the formula is the Original Recipe. The question once again this week is whether or not Kiffin will be happy calling running plays against the Hogs – we hope last week’s 47 rushes will encourage him to pound the rock. Here’s what else to watch for this week…(it’s late so we will be flinging W2W4 bullets at you like Aaron Rogers in the hurry up offense)
- Edge Runs: Arkansas continually gave up the edge to both Tennessee and A&M. Look for Kenyan Drake to go off this week when he gets the ball on any fly sweeps or outside plays.
- Screens: These little piggies get turned into bacon anytime they get screened. Wide receiver screens, running back screens, tight end screens – it doesn’t matter. Arkansas simply can’t seem to defend any type of screen very well at all.
- Spread Runs: The Vols gashed the Razorbacks up the middle repeatedly from the spread formation so look for Derrick Henry to have a lot of success between the tackles running from either the pistol or the shotgun. Also, if Alabama goes to an empty set, don’t be surprised if Kiffin asks Coker to run a QB draw. Arkansas completely vacates the middle of the defense against an empty set so there should be opportunities there for Coker.
- Scrambled Hogs: Arkansas plays a lot of man and they also drop very deep in their zones. Kyle Allen and Josh Dobbs both had success against the Hogs when running out of the pocket. Coker may convert a few first downs when he gets flushed from the pocket.
- Passing Game: The Hogs do a really nice job with their coverages, matching up tightly and challenging wide receivers on their routes. They are content to give up the short passing game (see the screens above) so curls and slants should be available. The area behind the flat corner and in front of the deep safety should be open and that happens to be one of Coker’s favorite throws
Final Offensive Thoughts
Alabama should have a lot of success attacking the flanks of the Arkansas defense this week and we think Kenyan Drake will reemerge as a huge weapon this week. The Razorbacks will have to gear up to stop the middle runs from Henry and they do not possess the foot speed to run sideline to sideline and protect their edges. If Alabama is patient, this should be a big day for the offense
Alabama on Defense
After keeping the Dogs on a short leash with a choke collar, gearing up to stop Bielema’s running game this week should be a walk in the park. The Hogs like to allow penetration into their lines which opens up running lanes for their outstanding back, Alex Collins. For teams who ask their linemen to get upfield in a hurry (i.e. Tennessee and A&M), they can get gashed repeatedly. However, Alabama prefers to form a picket fence, er, brick wall with their defensive line, so the running lanes the Hogs are used to will likely not be there. Alabama has annually stuffed the Razorback rushing attack so Brandon Allen will be once again be asked to win the game for the Hogs this week. Unfortunately for him, he really doesn’t have the skill players on the outside who can consistently win one on one matchups with the Tide. It should be a long night for Arkansas on offense – and here’s what to watch for Saturday night when the Tide is on defense…
- Where’s the Beef: Arkansas once again has the largest offensive line in all of football (college or pro) with a line that averages 327.8 pounds. They may be big but they do not appear to be very athletic. The Vols & Aggies both blitzed the Arky line repeatedly with a LOT of success. Locked up one on one, the Hogs o-line fared ok. But, when asked to move their feet to pick up a blitzer or a stunt, they struggled. Look for Alabama to use a lot of zone blitzes in long yardage situations.
- Blitzen: I still haven’t seen the Arky line pick up a safety/corner blitz. Minkah Fitzpatrick may make a couple of plays off the edge Saturday night.
- Soft in the Middle: The interior of the Arkansas line gave up a ton of penetration up the middle – in particular #72 was beaten like rented mule in both games. If Jonathan Allen or D’shawn Hand moves inside and matches up against #72, look for a sack.
- Boots: Look for play action fakes on first down with Allen rolling to one side or the other. Containment will be a key this week, especially because…
- Bouncy House: Alex Collins loves to start up the middle and then bounce his runs to the outside, a la Nick Chubb. The vast majority of Collins’ best runs came when he started up the middle an then bounced his runs outside. He’s rushed for over 100 yards four times this season so he’s a very good back. Keeping containment on the backside of his runs will be important this week.
- Go To Wide Receiver: Tight end Hunter Henry (#84) is still on the roster and is still a favorite target of Allen, but this season #80 Drew Morgan is his favorite target. They love to hit Morgan on crossing patterns and target him any time it’s third down.
- Telltales: If you see big #83 motion into the backfield, it’s very likely a draw. If you see a tightly bunched set of receivers off the outside shoulder of the tackle, the majority of the time it’s a run.
- Draws: Arkansas runs more delayed handoffs and draws than any team in the country. Again, they want to allow penetration so that running lanes open naturally. Bama usually doesn’t fall for this so draws are typically not effective versus the Tide.
- Low Man Wins: The only other phrase that my father said to me more often than “work hard” is that the low man always wins – probably because he’s 5’8 and I’m 6’1. Anyway, the Hogs’ linemen are really big but they are also very tall, so you often see their opponent getting lower and driving them off the line of scrimmage. When this happens, they resort to holding and they got called for this (and for offsides) many, many times during each game I watched.
Final Defensive Thoughts
Arkansas has never challenged a Nick Saban Alabama defense and this week should be no excpetion. They do not possess game breaking players and even Collins seemed to hurt his already hurt ankle again last week against Tennessee. The Bama defensive line should have their way with these little piggies and should send them crying “wee wee wee” all the way back to Fayetteville
Special Teams Notes
- Arkansas gave up big punt returns against Tennessee and a huge kick return by A&M. Again, they do not appear to be an overly athletic team and this often shows up in special teams.
- Against Tennessee, the Hogs’ kicker missed an easy short field goal. He’s 5 of 8 on the season but he hasn’t hit anything over 29 yards.
- Arky is ranked 11th in punting with a 40 yard average. Before you think “wow, they suck at punting”, you should know Bama is currently dead last in the SEC at 39.42. Dead last. Wow.
- Surprisingly, the Hogs are ranked as the #2 punt return team so having good punt coverage this week will be important.
After last week, we’d suspect that you guys will just ignore this section and frankly we wouldn’t blame you. But, just in case you are still reading, we think that even with this being a classic “sandwich” game, the Tide should roll. Yes, it will likely be a lethargic start to the game. Yes, there will be the classic concentration issues of a sandwich game. But, frankly, Alabama is just a lot better than Arkansas this year.
Alabama 31 Arkansas 10
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