- Line: Arkansas (+11.5) at Alabama
- Kickoff: 2:30pm CDT (Televised nationally on CBS with Verne Lundquist & Gary Danielson)
- Weather: Game temperature of 80 degrees, expected to hover between 82-78 throughout the game. No clouds and little wind
- Streaks: Alabama has won four in a row against Arkansas
The season is finally ready to begin for Arkansas and Alabama. After three tune-up games the Razorbacks (#96 SoS) and Crimson Tide(#70 SoS) are ready to start their respective marches to the SEC West divisional title, SEC conference championship, and BCS National Title Game. Saturday’s contest in Tuscaloosa serves as a de facto elimination game of sorts, although the loser does hold a glimmer of hope to find itself playing in Atlanta and New Orleans to end the season. The winner, though, will have the early advantage to reach both of those playing destinations.
This is the second consecutive year the Hogs/Tide game features two teams ranked in the Top 15 nationally. It also marks the second year the game has drawn the coveted 2:30pm CDT kickoff time on CBS’s national broadcast. Clearly the Alabama-Arkansas showdown has become the feature Western division game of the first half of the football season. We expect this year’s game to live up to the hype.
Why Arkansas should win: Head coach Bobby Petrino finally has a complete team. For three seasons the talk centered on Arkansas’s high powered offense. Now the Razorbacks have a legitimate SEC defense that causes opponents to rethink their offensive gameplans. You could see them emerging last season, and the 2011 version is ready to prove that they are worth the hype. For 10 and a half quarters against three inferior opponents, the Hogs defense looked as ferocious as its counterparts in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge. The defense (and team as a whole) let down midway through the third quarter against Troy, but the good outweighs the bad. These Hogs are ready on defense, and the Alabama offense has yet to prove it is ready to challenge a solid defense. The Crimson Tide starts a redshirt sophomore at quarterback in A.J. McCarron, who will undoubtedly make mistakes against a complicated, confusing scheme. Despite the presence of Heisman candidate Trent Richardson, the Crimson Tide running game has yet to develop into a monster attack needed to protect a young quarterback. Marquis Maze is the only established receiving threat and will be blanketed on Saturday.
The underreported element of Saturday’s game comes from the special teams. Arkansas has scored three touchdowns on returns this year. The electrifying play of Joe Adams and Marquel Wade forces teams to kick away from playmakers, creating field position for the Arkansas offense.
A short field for Tyler Wilson and the Quad Squad creates enormous challenges for a defense, even one as good as Alabama. Arkansas ranks 8th in the country in scoring (47 points/game) and 7th in passing offense (347 yards/game). Three different Arkansas receivers have produced 100-yard games this year [ Jarius Wright (108 yards v. Missouri St.), Cobi Hamilton (132 yards v. New Mexico), and Joe Adams (109 yards v. Troy)].
Bobby Petrino is an offensive mastermind, so it’s fair to expect Arkansas will have a unique gameplan established for Saturday. Petrino and offensive coordinator Garrick McGee have been preparing for this game all offseason. If execution meets preparation, Arkansas will win this game.
Why Alabama should win: The Crimson Tide defense is incredible. The Tide ranks 2ndin the nation
Bama Fan Thinks The Tide Could Win the Super Bowl.
in points against (6 per game) and 3rd in total defense (170 yards per game). Alabama has gotten fat on weak competition, but Penn State is a BCS conference member and played that game at home. It was an impressive win for a young quarterback. The offense looks like most successful Alabama offenses: they run the ball downhill, control the clock, and throw high-percentage passes. The Crimson Tide converts 42% of their 3rd down attempts this year. For a team with a new starter at quarterback, that’s a particularly strong percentage.
Arkansas has not won in Tuscaloosa since an overtime win in 2003 against a Mike Shula coached Alabama team. Since that win, the Tide has reeled off three straight at Bryant-Denny Stadium by an average score of 33-16 including a humbling 35-7 drubbing of the Hogs in 2009. Arkansas has struggled on the road in the SEC, failing to post a winning record away from the state under Petrino until last year.
Ultimately it comes back to the Tide defense. It’s an airtight unit that is experienced and confident in what they do. Mark Barron is as good as there is in the defensive backfield, and the Bama defensive line is licking its chops thanks to two new starters in the Arkansas offensive line – especially freshman Mitch Smothers. A solid day at the office for the Alabama defense is enough to win most games this season, even against a high-powered offense like Arkansas’s.
And the Winner Is…
High school recruits signs with SEC schools so they get to play in games just like this. The Arkansas-Alabama game is always one of the best early season matchups in the nation, and this year’s game will be one of the best in the series. Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino are the best coaches in defensive and offensive football, respectively, in the country. It’s a joy to watch those two wizards match wits, especially now that both teams have a full complement of exceptional talent.
This Arkansas team is special. It has all the tools needed to win the SEC and the BCS national title. The problem for the Hogs this year is the schedule. Playing at Alabama and at LSU means their two most difficult conference games are both away from home. Meanwhile, Alabama is playing with a ton of confidence after going to Penn State and walking out of there with a relatively easy victory. The defense is as good as advertised, and they are a healthy football team.
The story is different for Arkansas. Jarius Wright is back this week, but reports from The Hill indicate he will not be 100% after suffering a knee injury against New Mexico and missing last week. Gregg Childs is back for Alabama after missing the Troy game, too, because of a death in the family. Childs, though, has not yet found his form from 2010 before a patellar tendon injury ended his all-SEC caliber season. For Arkansas’s offense to fly against a team like Bama, all the bullets need to be in the gun offensively.
Losing Jake Bequette at defensive end, though, is the most troubling. Bequette is a senior, a captain, and the heart and soul of the defense. His role as emotional leader sometimes mutes his coverage as a player. Bequette is a fierce pass rusher that can also play the run quite effectively. He will no doubt play on Sundays as a professional, but he will not play on Saturday thanks to a lingering hamstring injury also suffered against New Mexico.
These injuries, a brutally difficult road venue, and a sophisticated, fast Alabama defense prevent us from picking a Hogs victory. In our SEC preview, we pegged this as a tough game to win for the Razorbacks. Unfortunately nothing has happened in the first three weeks of the season to change our minds. It will be a great game, and Arkansas will once again show that they belong in the discussion about who the elite teams in college football are this year. While Arkansas has the tools to win this game, it’s not something we can safely predict. Alabama 28, Arkansas 20