Coming into the season, the Arkansas game was one of two key matchups the Lighthouse had a great deal of interest in. We’ve talked at great length about the Tide moving to a smaller, quicker and more athletic defense and that’s been a huge asset against the spread offenses of today’s game. However, Arky doesn’t play spready spready fun ball. No, Arkansas likes to line up as many tight ends and fullbacks as they are legally allowed to have and run that pigskin right down their opponents’ throats! Big man on big man. Or big hog on big elephant, if you will.
So when we turned on the tape of Arkansas playing Texas A&M, we settled in to watch yet another Bret Bielema “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense. But, 371 passing yards later, we feel a whole lot better about having to man up against this year’s Razorback team.
The usually massive and stellar Hog offensive line has undergone quite a bit of change and now they are young, average and inexperienced. Their center has moved to right guard and then back to center. Their left guard and current right guard have each started just five games while their woeful right tackle has just started twice. The little Aggies completely owned the line of scrimmage in this game, stuffing ten – count ‘em, TEN – Razorback goal line plays in the game!!! TEN! On Arkansas’ tenth attempt it was 4th & 1 from the one yard line and Bielema ran a reverse for a loss of four – clearly anything but smash mouth football. Who are these guys from Fayetteville?????
In this really bizarro matchup between the Aggies and Arkys, it was Arkansas who successfully passed for 371 yards (and nearly got their QB killed in the process) while it was the Aggies who dominated on the ground, rushing for 366 yards. Air Bielema and Ground Sumlin – just what you would have expected, right? Well, here’s what we expect to see this week…
Alabama on Offense
Lord have mercy if there was ever a matchup pitting Alabama’s strength versus an opponent’s weakness it’s this week’s matchup against the Hogs. All of Texas A&M’s rushing yardage came off of the classic zone read stuff that Bama has been running effectively this season. Arkansas plays in a base 4-2 defense and rarely blitzes. Their linebackers and safeties are not setting any speed records anytime soon and Texas A&M exploited this repeatedly on their way to 366 yards rushing. That number is still mind boggling to me, by the way…366?
A&M spread the Hogs out with trips to one side or two receivers to each side. This split the safeties outside of the hashmarks and left only the two Piggy linebackers in the middle. The Aggies then ran motion (a fly sweep or motioning the running back out to the flat) before the snap and Arkansas chose to counter that by flaring out one of their linebackers into the boundary. This left Arkansas with only four down lineman and one linebacker to take on five offensive linemen, a running back AND an running quarterback. Texas A&M would also sometimes pull their guard and center which allowed them to attack three piggies with four Aggies. The result? Bacon! Bacon, bacon, bacon! BACON! Knight ran for 157 yards. Williams ran for 153. These two Aggies gained 310 yards on just 22 carries!!!! What do we call that? BACON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Here’s what else we noticed in film study…
Twilight Zone (Read): Texas A&M gashed the Razorbacks so badly by the end of the game the Hogs defense bled out like a stuck pig. Look for Jalen Hurts to combo with Joshua Jacobs and Damien Harris on zone reads that pop for big, big yardage. The key will be to watch Alabama’s formation and motions. If Alabama can remove one of the Hogs two linebackers in the same manner that A&M did then Bama will score at will. FYI – once A&M broke thru up the middle, the two Arky safeties were too slow to converge and make the tackle. Touchdown runs of 48, 42, 33 and 28 yards went right between the safeties.
Top Gun: Look for Alabama to continue taking shots down the field in this game. The Hogs play a two deep safety look and refuse to bring them down into the box. This tightens the throwing windows on everything 20 yards and in. However, the Aggies ran a fly pattern from their own 5 yard line and the receiver blew by the corner and the safety. The Hog safeties are very slow so they play a ton of zone to keep them from getting exposed in man coverage. But, you can still beat them deep as Calvin Ridley did last year to open up a tight game.
Crash: The Razorbacks crash their defensive ends down on nearly every zone read and this opens up significant running lanes for the quarterback. It also allows Bama’s five blockers to ignore the end and get out to the two linebackers, which should also help open up some running lanes.
I Spy: Arkansas used #51 (Ellis) to spy Trevor Knight – clearly that didn’t work. Personally, I think spying a QB is useless. The majority of the time the spy is neither in coverage nor rushing the passer – they are just standing there waiting for the QB to get flushed from the pocket. Useless.
Beat It: If Alabama can isolate OJ Howard or Jacobs on #51 in coverae, it should be a completion. Ellis can’t hang in man to man coverage.
Beasts of Burden: I really liked the work done by Arkansas defensive tackles Jeremiah Ledbetter (6’3, 280) and Taiwan Johnson (6’2, 284) on the interior of the Arkansas line. Early in the game, these two seniors were controlling the interior but, as the game progressed, they seemed to tire out and lose their effectiveness. Arkansas isn’t deep so I think you’ll see some “fastball” this week from Bama.
She’s Tight: The Arkansas zone really didn’t give up much in the passing game as the throwing lanes were pretty tight. A&M found some success on deep in routes behind the corners and in front of the safeties so look for this type of route to be completed a couple of times. I also think bubble screens and slants will be successful here since the linebackers and safeties play way off the slot receivers.
- Safety Dance: Arkansas safety Josh Liddell (28) had a terrible game against the Aggies. Missed tackles, poor coverage – you name it. Look for Lane Kiffin to isolate him in any way shape or form.
- Defensive End: The Hogs would sometimes push their defensive ends way, way outside of the formation – almost to the slot. This essentially eliminated the DE from providing run support.
- Eight is Enough: A Razorback nightmare would be to have to commit their safeties into run support. This would expose their corners and open up Pandora’s box of fun in the passing game.
- Same as It Ever Was: Nearly two thirds of my notes seem to say “zone read, five on five blocking – big gain for the Aggies.” This should be the bread and butter of the Alabama game plan.
- False Starts: Alabama really needs to take the crowd out of the game early or else you’ll get to see the Tide in long yardage situations resulting from false starts.
- Total Defense: Arkansas is ranked 52nd in Total Defense.
- Rushing Defense: Arkansas is ranked 73rd in Rushing Defense.
- Passing Defense: Arkansas is ranked 46th in Passing Defense.
If Alabama struggles running the football then this game suddenly becomes interesting. The way the Aggies gashed the Hogs repeatedly with the zone read, you should expect Alabama to have similar success. If Hurts is forced to pass, he’s going to have a tough time as this is the type of pass defense that could give him trouble. Zone coverages force a QB to look for windows and open spots instead of just eyeballing one defender. Bubble screens and deep shots should be available but anything in between may be a little scary.
Alabama on Defense
As we mentioned in the opening few paragraphs, this is not your father’s mother’s brother’s Arkansas team. Heck, this isn’t even your little sister’s Arkansas team. These Hogs are ranked 48th nationally in rushing offense and 55th nationally in passing offense so you can see that they feature a pretty balanced attack these days. In throwing for 371 yards, we gained an appreciation for the skill guys at wide receiver and tight end, so they have the ability to make some plays in the passing game.
But, what makes this Hogs team so different from Bielema’s other teams is the lack of a dominant offensive line. These guys are young, inexperienced and are certainly not the big road graders you are probably accustomed to seeing in Fayetteville. Additionally, the linemates have played a bit of musical chairs so even the little bit of experience they have isn’t with one another so their offense as a whole has struggled as a result.
Here’s what we saw when we watched the film of the Hogs attacking the Aggie defense…
Formations: One of Alabama’s biggest challenges will be to line up correctly against the Arkansas formations. They use a variety of different formations: two tight ends, a fullback, three wide receivers, shotgun, I formation and anything else they can think of. They motion out of this and try to cause the defense to be outnumbered on one side or the other.
Tough Enough: I came away being VERY impressed with Arkansas QB Austin Allen. This dude deserves the Medal of Honor or a Purple Heart or something after getting battered, covered, chunked, dunked, sliced and diced against the Aggies. The only thing missing from this piñata was the hemorrhaging of candy. Yet, Allen kept dealing. This guy has nerves of steel and delivered the mail every time he knew he was going to get an Aggie helmet tattooed into his sternum. Very impressive kid.
Delay of Game: Arkansas seems to prefer slow, deliberate handoffs and this creates opportunities for tackles for loss.
Right Round: The Hogs’ right tackle Brian Wallace (#60) will be making just his third start and if his first start (against A&M) is any indication, Bama’s edge rushers should have a field day. He bad.
Eating Sprinkles: Arkansas has a tight end (#83) named Jeremy Sprinkle and he’s an outstanding tight end. I love what they do with him lined up as an inline blocker. Sprinkle always chips on the defensive end before going out for a pass and sometimes he even holds his block for a count or two before releasing. Sprinkles will be a very difficult matchup for the Tide linebackers.
Numbers Game: The Aggies oftentimes lined up 9 men across the line of scrimmage and simply outnumbered the Hogs front line. Look for Alabama to threaten blitzes off the edge and thru the A/B gaps in an effort to disrupt the Razorback blocking schemes.
Another Brick in the Wall: This was simply amazing to watch but Arkansas had 10 (TEN!) goal line plays inside the two yard line and scored on NONE of them. The Aggies put 10 men on the line of scrimmage and blew up every single play Bielema dialed up. Inside plays were blown up. Outside plays resulted in tackles for loss. Passing plays ended with pressured throw aways from Allen. It was amazing to watch. Arky had three shots initially and, after a pass interference, they had three more shots from the 2. DENIED. Later, they got down there again and took four whacks at it with the same result. NADA!
Sledgehammer: Remember, this Tide unit is smaller and faster than it’s predecessors so it will be interesting to see how the Tide holds up to a power rushing attack. Josh Frazier was underwhelming last week at tackle so Tomlinson and Payne will have to get it done themselves. Look for Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson to man the outside end positions with Tim Williams only coming on in pass rushing situations. However, if Bama uses a 3-4 (hint: they will), we want to see if Williams is out there as an OLB. This would put both Allen and Williams on the field but neither is really suited to hold the point of attack against the run. This is our favorite matchup and W2W4 of the week!
- Arkansas center Jake Raulerson got shoved around by the Aggies. Da’Ron Payne should have a good day.
- Look for the Razorbacks to run between the tackles. Each time they tried to get to the edge their line was slow and couldn’t get their blocks while the Aggies outraced them to the sidelines.
- If you see #44 lined up outside and he comes in motion towards the line, he’s blocking down on the defensive end and calling the Hogs to run towards him.
- I have several notes that say “zero push from offensive line” so look for Bama to dominate up front.
- Just to reiterate, a Bret Bielema team had ten shots at the Aggies from inside the two yard line and came away with three points. That’s just mystifying to me.
- Keon Hatcher (4), Drew Morgan (80), and Jared Cornelius (1) all looked to be very solid receivers. In particular, Cornelius was extremely impressive after the catch. Hatcher (6’2) is their jump ball guy so look for Humphrey’s vertical to be tested once again by #4.
- Running back Rawleigh Wiliams III gets a lot of publicity but, to us, he’s just a guy. This isn’t Jonathan Williams or Alex Collins. He’s a 220 lb load but he doesn’t have the wiggle, power or speed of the former Hog backs.
- Austin Allen’s abilty to hang in the pocket and deliver throws is impressive. With all the pressure, he was still able to get rid of the ball – only taking one sack during the game. However, there were four separate occasions where he either threw passes he shouldn’t have or the pressure impacted the velocity/accuracy on his throws. Look for the Tide secondary to come down with at least a couple of picks Saturday.
- Arky likes crossing routes and flooding zones. If Allen is given time, he’s very accurate with the football. Honestly, he’s the most impressive pure QB I think Bama has played this season.
- Arkansas biggest rushing plays were when the Aggies misaligned their defense too heavily against the strong side of the formations.
We expect Alabama’s front six to dominate the game up front and we think QB Austin Allen will end up getting whacked to the point where he’s forced to leave the game. Honestly, it’s a medical miracle how he survived the A&M game. I’m interested to see just how much Tim Williams plays on Saturday since he’s really playing more of his pass rushing role this season. But, when he’s in, look out. He may set a record for single game sacks if Arkansas falls behind.
Alabama on Special Teams
Whether it’s Xavian Marks or Eddie Jackson deep, Bama has weapons in the punt return game. Bama is currently ranked 6th in the country in average yards per return (19.67!). Meanwhile, Arkansas checks in at 48th in the country (9.64) in punt return average. Advantage Tide.
Bama is averaging 22.1 yards per kick return, good for 56th in the nation, while Arkansas is a woeful 116th in the country averaging just 17.18 yards per return. Advantage Tide.
Arkansas actually is ranked tenth in the country in Net Punting with a 42.76 yard average. But, Bama is right behind them with a 41.44 average – good for 18th in the country. Even.
Lastly, Adam Griffith checks in hitting 8 of 11 field goals while Arkansas has just hit 4 of 6 (none of them over 40 yards). Advantage Bama.
Final Thoughts and Prediction
Granted it was only one game of film study but Alabama’s strengths on offense appear to be Arkansas’ weakness on defense and Bama’s strengths on defense look to be downright lethal in this game. Offensively, Alabama should be able to run the zone read and also be able to take advantage of slow footed safeties and linebackers in the passing game. Defensively, we don’t see Arkansas being able to run the ball so Austin Allen is going to have numerous opportunities to see the Goodyear blimp while he’s laying on his back.
Final Score: Bama 38 Arkansas 13