Every week we like to check in with a fellow SEC blogger to get a different perspective on the upcoming game. As you may heard, this Saturday's matchup is kind of a big one, so we're especially pleased to share the following Q&A with Todd from the excellent Alabama blog, Roll Bama Roll. And, be sure to check our answers to his questions over at RBR. Enjoy!
1. From where we sit, Alabama doesn't seem to have a lot of weaknesses. If you were the Arkansas coaching staff, what would be your game plan? (We promise not to tell the real Arkansas coaching staff.)
Last year we were able to shut y'all's offense down with a swarming pass rush, but so far this year the front seven hasn't been nearly as good as generating any pressure in the backfield (which has hurt us against the run, as well) and both Penn State and Duke had a lot of success getting the ball out quickly.
Penn State in particular used a lot of three step drops and either cut the ends or went max protect while passing, and Bolden was hardly touched for most of that game. We did get an INT off of him when Dont'a Hightower was able to hit him as he threw, but just off the top of my head there weren't many other times that we were able to really get to him when the game was still relatively undecided. Duke also moved the ball very effectively against our young and inexperienced D by going up tempo on us.
If I were Petrino I would certainly take note of both Duke's and Penn State's game plans and come out as aggressively as possible to put the defense on their heels and make us outshoot you. I'd also get D.J. Williams involved early and often. We've had some issues with the linebackers covering TEs and RBs (Dont'a Hightower has noticeably lost a step, be it from bulking up or lingering issues from the knee injury), and the front seven is being shuffled this week to try and fix some of the issues.
Like I said, this is a defense that is pretty green at just about every position, so be aggressive (B-E AGGRESSIVE!) right out of the gate. On defense...well, I don't know what to tell you there since no one has really done much to slow them down yet. I got the feeling we reigned it in against Penn State after getting up three scores 'cause Saban has a lot of respect for Paterno, so maybe if you can get Petrino some black shoes and thick glasses...
2. On the flip side, everyone knows that Arkansas' biggest strength is the passing game. How will Nick Saban try to slow down Ryan Mallett and his receivers?
I think you'll get the usual Saban treatment this weekend, namely a lot of different blitz packages and press coverage in the secondary. This year we're really looking like a "bend but don't break" kind of defense so far, which has worked well enough (only given up 19 points in three games) but still seems odd after last year's dominating unit. Basically we'll cover all the short stuff and make you test us deep and hope like hell we've gotten enough of a push to affect Mallett and make him make a mistake.
We've gone with a "hot hand" approach to the running back rotation and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Ingram is the undisputed starter and his experience is going to keep him there. Everyone likes to talk about how "Richardson is the better overall back" because of his speed, or even say that the two are so interchangeable that it doesn't matter which one we play, but the truth is Ingram is the reigning Heisman winner for a reason; he's just that damn good.
I have no problem admitting that Richardson has better open field speed than Ingram, and that the two are very similar in that they are physical, between the tackles runners, but Ingram has the edge on patience and vision. He's created more yardage just by being patient enough and aware enough to follow and set up blocks than Richardson has shown the ability to do (he's more of a lower the shoulder or just flat outrun you type) and that's what makes him such a great running back.
That being said, as far as splitting their carries, it really is just a matter of which is really hitting their stride at the moment, which one is a better fit for the play, and which one has the fresher legs, and I think the playcalling will also reflect those three things.
4. Clay Travis recently wrote that Saban could win a championship within five years at basically any school in the country. Do you agree or disagree? And is there any potential job opening (even completely hypothetically) that would worry if you if the team backed up the money truck to his door?
I agree because his approach isn't about winning right away, it's about building a program from the ground up and insuring that every single aspect of the program, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is designed to help the team win. Any program that will hand over that much control to him like Alabama has would easily be in roughly the same position that we are right now.
I say roughly because I don't know that he could take a school with limited resources like a Florida International or New Mexico State and turn them into a national power, but they'd probably be one of the hardest hitting and well coached scrub teams you'd ever find and they would rule their conference. As for potential job openings, I don't know that any would scare me. I mean, I wouldn't begrudge the guy if someone offered him double his salary and a solid gold rocket car, but I don't see another team ponying up the money to top what he's already making, I don't see another program giving him complete and total reign over the football program like he has here, and without those two things I don't see him leaving.
Further, his whole career has been about moving up; from Toledo to being a coordinator in the NFL, to Michigan State, then to LSU, to being a head coach in the NFL. He found out he wasn't cut out for the pros and now he's at one of the premier college programs in the toughest conference in the country. There really is nowhere else to go that would be a move up at this point.
5. If Alabama and Arkansas played in Fayetteville ten times under the current conditions, what would the Tide's record be? Since they're only playing one time, what's your prediction for this Saturday?
I'd say Alabama would take 7 of 10. I just really believe that we have improved so much on offense that even if this game does turn into a shootout we have the guns to still win, and I think that's how this game is going to turn out. I imagine both teams will have early success moving the ball and scoring, but late in the second half our defense gets it together for enough key stops to pull it out. I'm horrible at guessing scores, but I'll go 34-23 Bama.
(Thanks again to Todd for sharing his thoughts. Don't miss our half of the Q&A over at Roll Bama Roll.)