I don’t think anyone reading this preview is seriously looking for hope in this game, so I’m not going to indulge anyone. I think all those who clicked on this article are wondering how bad the whooping in Tuscaloosa is going to be. So let’s make this quick.
When Arkansas has the ball
This is Arkansas’ best panel, and it features no clear advantages. The Hogs will pick up a few rushing yards here and there, but nothing that allows them to sustain a drive, and nothing big enough to turn successful plays into long touchdowns.
I’m guessing Arkansas will have its share of three-and-outs, but I think the offense will get at least a first down or two on most drives. However, without any ability to generate a big play, the best drives will stall out at midfield. Remember the nightmarish 52-0 losses to Alabama in 2012 and 2013? Well, without any big play ability, I’m activating the Shutout Alert. I don’t think it will happen, but there’s a very real chance Arkansas does not score any points before this game hits junk time.
This game would be a nice time for the special teams to step up with a big play. But wait. Arkansas has made one (1) field goal this season, has two (2) punt return yards, and the kick return unit has as many returns of 35+ yards as lost fumbles (one of each). I get that Arkansas doesn’t have a special teams coordinator, but someone is assigned to each of these things! There is a coach who has a dedicated time of practice where they’re in charge of practicing these things. Whichever assistant handles punt returns in my favorite. He’s like that kid Johnny in everyone’s 11th-grade English class.
“Johnny, did you do your homework?”
“No, I didn’t. And I’m not even going to patronize you with a made-up excuse: I never once considered doing it, I didn’t, and now I have zero regrets.”
You kind of have to admire that kid.
Alabama’s tendency to give up big plays in the passing game is one of its few (relative) weaknesses. Teams that can actually to protect their quarterback may be able to take advantage of that. It’s the same reason Hugh Freeze beat Nick Saban twice.
Speaking of pass protection, Alabama’s pass-rush actually isn’t a juggernaut this year. I mean, it’s good, but it’s not the dominant unit of last season. I don’t think that will matter much against the Hogs but it’s an interesting observation.
When Alabama has the ball
Yeah, Arkansas ain’t stopping nobody on early downs. The lack of disruptiveness on this defensive front is something to be expected with the transition to a 3-4 defense, but it’s still a reality for this team.
Tide running backs Damien Harris (8.5 yards per rush!!!) and Bo Scarbrough (unimpressive so far this year) will be four yards down the field before any Razorback defender gets a hand on them. The Tide will also hit several big runs, although the Hogs are slightly better equipped to limit those.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts (63.0% completion, 7.1 yards per attempt, 7 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) hasn’t wowed with his arm this year, but he doesn’t make many mistakes (zero picks) and that’s really all Alabama needs at this point. Different story against Clemson and possibly Georgia, though, but Saban will cross that bridge when he comes to it. Hurts is better with his arm on early downs, and when you force him to pass...
...we find Alabama’s biggest weakness. If Arkansas can force third-and-longs (a big “if”), the defense may can get some stops, as Alabama will struggle in third-and-long. Despite losing top cover-corner Ryan Pulley, the cornerback combo of Henre’ Toliver and Kamren Curl has played fairly well this year.
I’d like to see the Hog secondary end Hurts’ no-interceptions streak. That would be a nice consolation prize in what will otherwise likely be a beatdown.
Keys to the game
- Nobody gets hurt. It’s asking a lot of this offensive line to keep Austin Allen (or Cole Kelley, who will probably get some snaps one way or another) upright, but hopefully those two can stay healthy, since there are winnable games left on the schedule. Critical injuries mean Alabama beats you twice: see Florida State, who has struggled since the Tide took out their quarterback in the season-opener.
- Watch Memphis vs. Navy at 2:45 on ESPNU. Or Arkansas State against future Hog opponent Coastal Carolina at 6:00. You know where I’m going with this.
Remember: Arkansas saved Alabama’s 2015 national championship season by beating Ole Miss to clear the way to the SEC West championship, so maybe the Tide will spare some wrath in return.