The Matchup: #1 Alabama at Arkansas
When: Saturday, September 15th
Where: Fayetteville, Arkansas
Game Time: 3:30 PM ET
What you need to know about Arkansas: Arkansas went and did the unthinkable last week against Louisiana-Monroe. They were the first top 10 team the Sun Belt has ever beaten in the history of the conference. ULM outplayed the Hogs on both sides of the ball for four quarters, and the Hogs’ program is remarkably embarrassed – and how could you blame them?
If that’s not enough, quarterback Tyler Wilson, who many believe is the best in the conference, went down in the first half with concussion-like symptoms and never returned in the second half. The word from a source inside the Arkansas program was that Wilson was kept in the hospital until late morning on Sunday due to some bleeding in the bottom of the brain from a severe concussion. Obviously, Wilson has not been ruled out for this weekend, but I’m willing to say there’s less than a five percent chance he plays. That spells trouble. Backup Brandon Allen will be thrown into the fire and forced to find time in the pocket with an offensive line that has not blocked well at all this season.
Running back Knile Davis has been non-existent so far through the first two weeks, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. He’s clearly not 100 percent yet, but backup senior Dennis Johnson hasn’t played much either. The offense got very far away from the running game a week ago and lost all sense of what it was trying to accomplish.
The Arkansas’ defense is 12th of 14 teams in total defense to start the season, and they’ve played Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe. ULM’s quarterback threw for over 400 yards, and the team racked up 550 total yards. Starting corner Tevin Mitchell is out for at least this week, and he’s arguably the best player in the secondary.
What you need to know about Alabama: This program is on autopilot for Nick Saban. He has senior leaders on both sides of the ball, and talented newcomers who bring a huge addition to the team.
AJ McCarron is playing very well through two weeks. He boasts the highest passing efficiency through two weeks (199.78 rating) in the SEC, and he’s third in the country in that department. This veteran offensive line has played great, too, except for giving up some sacks last week against WKU.
The emerging star on offense is freshman running back TJ Yeldon. He leads the team in rushing with 136 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown. With Jalston Fowler now done for the year, Yeldon becomes that much more important. Expect him to get just as many carries as Eddie Lacy throughout the course of this season.
Bama’s defense is third in the SEC in total defense, good for 14th in the country so far. This will be the biggest test of a passing offense they’ve faced thus far, whether Wilson plays or not.
What you need to watch: Bama has won five straight against the Hogs. The last time to Fayetteville was a dogfight but a game that was eventually won by the Tide.
For Arkansas: The Razorbacks have to find production on offense with the ground game. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino totally aborted the ground game last week for no apparent reason. If Arkansas has any chance to win this football game, Knile Davis will have to take over. I really don’t expect Tyler Wilson to play in this game; therefore, backup Brandon Allen will have to play better than he did last week. He completed only six of 20 passes (30 percent) for 85 yards.
On the flip side, Arkansas is going to have to play some kind of defense. ULM sliced right through this defense, and it’s very alarming that this group couldn’t make adjustments in the second half against the Warhawks.
For Alabama: Bama just needs to play Bama football. McCarron will have plenty of opportunities to throw early and often against the Hogs’ secondary, and I think he takes advantage of it. He threw for four touchdowns last week, and he’s getting better and developing into a better passer and leader for the offense.
The defense is preparing like Wilson will play, and it will be the same offense whether he does or does not. The defensive line must be licking its chops seeing the hits ULM was able to put on Wilson last week and how quick they were able to get to the quarterback.