Video still: RazorVision
It’s safe to say that last week did NOT go according to plan. First off, quarterback Tyler Wilson wasn’t supposed to get hurt. Secondly, cornerback Tevin Mitchell wasn’t supposed to get hurt. Thirdly, fullback Kody Walker wasn’t supposed to get hurt. Fourth, Arkansas was DEFINITELY not supposed to lose to Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference to the tune of 34-31 in overtime.
But, it happened. All four of those things, and more, have led many Arkansas fans to start questioning Jeff Long’s decision to hire former assistant John L. Smith as a stop-gap for this season. The plan was simple — hire Smith as a coach that was familiar with the system, a coach that the players knew and liked, and a coach that has enough experience to know when to defer to his coordinators to get their jobs done.
The problem? As of right now, the coordinators aren’t getting their jobs done and Smith has shown little to no desire to step in and be anything like former head coach Bobby Petrino.
After an unfulfilling win over Jacksonville State and the seemingly unfathomable loss to ULM, sitting at 1-1, the Hogs are still striving for one of their season goals — an SEC Championship. Current record aside, the Razorbacks are still 0-0 in conference play. They start blazing that path this weekend and will attempt to bounce back from their fist woes. It’s extremely unfortunate that they will have to climb that mountain against the No. 1 team in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
For as poreus as the Hogs have been both offensively and defensively, the coaching staff, players and many analysts still believe that the talent is there to compete against ‘Bama. That has to be somewhat true, considering the Razorbacks’ pre-season ranking. And everyone will sure find out this Saturday afternoon.
Alabama is the top team in the country and has already impressed in their first two games of the season by beating (previously No. 8) Michigan and Western Kentucky by a combined score of 76-14. The Crimson Tide offense is never really anything to write home about, they’re going to smash the ball down your throat and control the ball in the air — it’s usually up to the quarterback (in this case junior AJ McCarron — 418 yards passing and 6 TDs) to manage the game and not make mistakes. The defense, on the other hand, is where Alabama thrives. They’re currently ranked No. 5 in points allowed (7 pts/game), No. 13 in rushing defense (57 yards/game), and No. 39 in passing defense (189 yards/game).
Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has his players ready and aimed for a second NCAA Championship. Arkansas is looking to get back on track. If there was ever a time for the Hogs to cash in the Cinderella-story chip, now is the time.
Offensively: The big question going into Saturday’s game is will Tyler Wilson be playing for the Hogs? Wilson, who is no stranger to taking massive hits from defenders, took one too many to the head last Saturday against ULM. Having left in the second quarter, and not returning, fans saw how anemic the offense became without Wilson. If Wilson is in, and the Hogs can provide him with sufficient time to throw the ball (much less just protect him), then this will be the Hogs best chance at beating Alabama. The Crimson Tide defense, even though it seems fairly dominant, is young; and their secondary is arguably their weakest link. Alabama is going to bring the house in hopes of getting to Wilson, which means that slants and screens could be lethal. And if the linebackers start dropping off into pass coverage, then that could open up the running game for Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson. If Wilson doesn’t play, the ball will probably end up in freshmen Brandon Allen’s hands. Allen started off his relief stint well last week with a great throw for a touchdown — and then finished only 6-20. With a full week of practice under his belt, hopefully his timing with receivers is better — but going up against a defense like Alabama, that’s a tall task. Which might lead offensive coordinator Paul Petrino to think about using junior Brandon Mitchell, instead. Either way, the Hogs offense has a tough task and they will all need to be playing confidently and nearly error-free if they want to have a chance against Alabama.
Defensively: The Hogs defense under defensive coordinator Paul Haynes was supposed to be improved and simplified. But after two games, the defense looks as bad now as it had under former DC Willy Robinson. Two weeks in, and the Razorbacks have allowed teams to rack up an average of 436 yards a game (116 rushing, 320 passing) against them. Haynes wants the schemes to be super simple, but the Hogs have looked out of sync and out of position quite often. The name of the game against Alabama will be to contain their running game (T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler, 292 yards, 2 TDs) and try to make McCarron beat you with his arm. McCarron isn’t a horrible quarterback, but the passing game isn’t ‘Bama’s strength. The bad news for Arkansas is that our cornerback situation is slim with senior Darius Winston (who was removed from the game against Jacksonville State for poor play) and Kaelon Kelleybrew (a senior walk-on transfer from Mississippi Valley State). Both Winston and Kelleybrew have shown glimpses of solid play, but both have been burned for for touchdowns against what most would call lesser opponents. If the Hogs can get solid line play and stop the run on Saturday, it’ll be up to the secondary to keep things reasonable.
Special Teams: Arkansas will hope that kickers Zach Hocker and Dylan Breeding can pin Alabama back deep in their own territory. The Hogs haven’t been close to breaking a punt or kick return for a touchdown, so keeping a hold of the ball and playing within their means will be critical.
The weather in Fayetteville will be in the 70s and there’s a possibility of rain, which could make things sloppy and more of a ground game. The task at hand is huge if the Hogs want to start off conference play with a win. And a win against the No. 1 team would go miles in terms of erasing what happened in Little Rock last weekend. I think the Razorbacks will come out amped for the game and could give Alabama scare early, but will eventually buckle under the pressure and won’t be able to keep things close. The spread is currently Alabama by 20, and that could be an easy cover. Arkansas 17, Alabama 45.
Let us know what you think the final score will be. If you’re the closest (see rules below), you’ll get a free t-shirt from Bearstate Supply.
How to enter
Leave a comment with your game prediction. If you want to add anything else, please feel free.
What you’ll win
One t-shirt of your choice (design, color, size) from the Bearstate Supply online store. (Hoodies, ringers and tri-blend AA’s not included)
- You only may enter this specific contest once.
- Contests are open to anyone anywhere except staff of Fayetteville Flyer and their immediate family members.
- The winning entry must pick the winning team and have the smallest combined difference from each team’s final score. Example: If the Razorbacks win by a score of 21-7, and your prediction was Razorbacks 20-10, your difference would be 1 + 3 = 4. In the event of a tie, a winner will be selected by a random drawing.
- You must pick the score by 15 minutes before kickoff for each game.
- Make sure you leave a valid e-mail address when filling out the comment form since that’s how we’ll contact you if you’ve won.
Arkansas vs. Alabama
Date: Saturday, Sept. 15
Time: 2:30 p.m. Central
Location: Razorback Stadium