As part of our ongoing public service to bring you, the Razorback fan, the best and most in-depth information about the Hogs and their opponents, we like to invite our fellow bloggers over to our little corner of the Internet to give us the scoop on their teams.
In our latest installment, we're pleased to present a Q&A with outsidethesidelines from the Alabama blog, Roll Bama Roll (you might remember the RBR guys from the preseason scouting report they shared with us). Many thanks to them for their time and insights.
The Crimson Tide seems to be firing on all cylinders right now. What's the #1 aspect of Bama's game that Hog fans should be worried about?
Hog fans should probably be worried more about the Alabama pass rush that anything else. We have finally managed to get a lot of speed and athleticism into the front seven, and with the addition of linebacker coach Sal Sunseri, the pass rush looks much improved this year. Both Dont'a Hightower and Eryk Anders are fine rushers off the edge, Marcel Dareus looks to be a budding superstar at defensive end, Lorenzo Washington looks better than ever, and on obvious passing situations we can move to our "Rabbit" package to get a lot of speed and athleticism rushing the quarterback.Now, this may seem like a bit of a counter-intuitive answer simply because, even while improved, the pass rush is probably not Alabama's best attribute. However, that said, this is probably the one area that can harm Arkansas' chances of winning more so than anything else. It's no grand secret that if Arkansas is going to win this game they will need another big performance from Ryan Mallett in the passing game, and if Alabama can consistently get after him with the pass rush, that will likely limit the effectiveness of the passing game to the point that Arkansas will really need a surprise performance from their defense (and / or special teams) to leave Tuscaloosa with the victory.
Ryan Mallett showed last week that he can succeed in the SEC, but Alabama has perhaps the best defense in the conference. Does the Razorbacks' offense concern you at all, and how will Nick Saban try to shut it down?
I do not think there is any way any objective observer could look at the Arkansas offense and not be pretty concerned, regardless of how good your defense may be. Petrino is the ringmaster, Mallett will clearly play on Sunday one day soon -- and he could be a very high draft pick -- and the tailback rotation is probably as deep as any in the country, plus the rotation is a nice mix of players with unique physical builds and skill sets.
The wide receiver rotation might not have any bona fide superstars like a Julio Jones, but there are a lot of solid receivers who can get the job done, and that's to say nothing of Lucas Miller's possible return. And, as the cherry on top, D.J. Williams is the best tight end in the conference. Some concerns with the offensive line do make you feel better about your chances, but again I don't think there is any you cannot be objectively concerned.
As for how Alabama will deal with this offense, I think we'll largely do what we normally do under Nick Saban. We'll use Cody and company to shut down the interior running game at the point of attack, and then give a lot of complex blitz and cover packages to try to limit the effectiveness of the passing game. I think you guys will see a lot of the 3-3-5 from the Tide -- meaning Marquis Johnson will be on the field on almost every snap and Cory Reamer's role will be reduced. We've used that quite a bit against FIU and North Texas trying to shut down their spread passing game, and I see no reason to expect that we will not do that against the Hogs.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are Greg McElroy, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram about going up against the Arkansas defense?
I would probably say seven. The Arkansas defense clearly has a lot of problems and is not a very good unit right now, but it's still an SEC defense that can possibly give you problems. There are still some quality players back there, and again you can never take a conference opponent like Arkansas lightly. There is certainly plenty of reasons for those guys to feel good going up against the Hogs, but even so you are still going to have to go out and consistently execute your game plan over the course of 60 to 70 plays against an SEC defense, and with that in mind you cannot get too confident, especially when you know that you might need to score a lot of points to get the win.
Traditionally, the Alabama-Arkansas game is a barometer for the rest of the season for both teams. What's your prediction for the outcome, and what will that say for the rest of the Tide's season?
Top to bottom, I think Alabama is clearly the better football team here, and as a result the Tide should get the win. However, I do think this year's game will be much closer than last year's, and if Alabama continues to make some of the boneheaded mistakes that have plagued them early in the 2009 campaign -- breakdowns in kick coverage, penalties, missed kicks, inefficiencies in the red zone, etc. -- I could see this becoming a very close game that goes down to the wire. And, of course, in that scenario, anything can happen and the Hogs could win. I think Alabama is clearly the better team, but if we beat ourselves to a certain degree the Hogs could get the victory in a close game.
At any rate, in the past several years the Alabama v. Arkansas game has been a good barometer for most years, but I'm not really sure that means anything moving forward, and frankly I really don't think that it does for this year's contest. Alabama should win this game, and go on to win a lot of games for that matter, but with that in mind the Tide ought to have a very successful year regardless of what happens Saturday. Likewise for the Hogs, losing to Alabama is far from a death knell, and Arkansas could very well still exceed pre-season expectations even with a loss to the Tide on their resume. All in all, it may be a bit of a interesting talking point, but I really don't think it's particularly relevant to this game.