AF: Any chance Saban bolts for the Dolphins before Saturday? Jokes aside, how is the fan base handling him these days? And does it get old that every major NCAA and NFL job that is open has his name attached to it, for literally no reason?
RBR: Saban is still a hot name, for obvious reasons. However, rumors have cooled off somewhat as he's both gotten older and more settled in Tuscaloosa. Hard to believe, but this is his 9th year at the Capstone, his longest stay at any position. And, with him getting up in years, I think the vanity portion of his career is dedicated to tying Bear Bryant for national titles, not necessarily leading a third program to the promised land. He was fully prepared to leave, I believe, in 2013. That window may have passed however for a man now in his early 60s. He'll retire as the head coach of the University of Alabama, and probably having pocketed $80 million or so along the way. That said, The younger guys are now the subject of speculation (Meyer, Sumlin, Harbaugh, etc.) and those programs are welcome to the distraction.
AF: Is it now obvious how Blake Sims beat out Jake Coker last year, or has Coker finally come around with his performance against UGA?
RBR: Coker can be a very efficient quarterback when put in the offense that utilizes his abilities, such as the routs over Wisconsin and Georgia. Jake is not the hurry up, four-wide, 40-attempt guy that Kiffin may want for a tempo offense. Rather, he needs to be protected with the running game, be given a moving pocket where his mobility can be used, and he needs to be placed in positions where he makes fewer decisions. For all of the criticism Coker has received (and Lord knows I've leveled my portion,) in games where he has struggled, the offensive line has done him no favors and the wide receiving corps have dropped too many passes. I would expect a more ball-control offense going forward, in which case Cokjer can do some damage and Alabama becomes a very scary team. There is this fact too, for all of the press he's gotten over the years, and despite the fact he's a 5th year senior, Coker is still a "young quarterback," as Arkansas will be just his 5th start.
AF: Has Lane Kiffin settled into his role more in year two and does there seem to be more chemistry between him and Saban now? Gotta give the guy credit for consistently scoring between 34-38 every game this year.
RBR: The alleged lack of chemistry is just that, by and large. Nick Saban loves Lane Kiffin, and always has. In fact, when Saban came to the Capstone in 2007, he actually tried to hire Kiffin first. It is a testament to the fact that Kiffin is an excellent OC, the best quarterback coach in the business, a competent recruiter, a very good mentor in practice, and the players absolutely adore playing for him.
Are there tiffs every now and again? Sure, Kiffin like most offensive coordinators has periods where he tries to do too much or get too cute. But, this is his offense ran under Saban's general philosophy of "run the ball, score 38 points." (no, really, those are Alabama maxims in the locker room.)
AF: Does anything about Arkansas make you guys nervous considering Alabama always dominates "traditional" style teams?
RBR: Arkansas does give me pause for two reasons. The first is that Alex Collins may not get the hype that Chubb or Fournette do, but he is an excellent back and very versatile for a guy of his physicality. Like UGA, Alabama must key in on stopping the run first. Unlike Georgia, though, the Hogs have a competent quarterback. Brandon Allen is perfect for that offense. Even if Keon Hatcher were available on the outside, Hunter Henry is still the one guy that the Alabama passing defense must shut down. In a division with three excellent tight ends, he is the most physical, the most dangerous go-to man over the middle, and the one player that gives me shivers at night, especially in the red zone. Henry is a mismatch for every linebacker in this conference and outclasses most safeties as well.
RBR: Ordinarily, you think that teams shut down the run to make a team rely on passing. This game feels different though. I think the Tide attack the Arkansas passing game first. Against Ole Miss, Alabama was able to shut down the middle of the field and take away Evan Ingram, but at the expense of some players on the edge. I don't think Arkansas has anyone that threatens a Tide secondary that may or may not still be vulnerable to vertical passing attacks. This will make Arkansas play a game that I don't believe Bielema can win -- pitting his offensive line against the best front seven in America. Will Collins get his yards? Sure. But they are going to be hard-fought and not nearly enough to move the chains and sustain drives, much less generate points consistently.
On the flipside, I think we see the same Alabama game plan as against Georgia, especially against a younger Hogs defense that lost key contributors up front. That means pound Derrick Henry, Damien Harris, put Kenyan Drake in space, and then let Jacob Coker and the play-action game go to work.
Arkansas has a little momentum, to be sure. But Alabama is playing for far greater stakes, and I just don't see a let-down in this relatively short, sub-three-hour game.
Alabama 31 Arkansas 13