Nick Saban recognizes challenge of Razorbacks' balanced offense
At Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s press conference on Monday, he indicated Arkansas presents a challenge for his team because of the Hogs’ multi-faceted offense.
“I think this team demonstrated this year that they have one of the best balanced teams that we’re going to play,” he said. “I think they’re running the ball for almost 200 yards a game and are throwing for 200 yards a game.”
Indeed, the Razorbacks are averaging 246 passing yards per game and 197 rushing yards per game. Despite the team’s clear balance, the Razorbacks carry a reputation as a smashmouth, physical football team.
“I don’t think they’re one-dimensional at all,” Saban said. “They’re a very physical team and they’re going to run the ball and they’re going to run it downhill. They’ve got good backs and an offensive line to do that. I think their quarterback is playing extremely well. They’ve got great play-action passes that go with their running game, and they’ve made a lot of explosive plays this year with their skill players. I think the combination of those two things is really what challenges the defense not only up front but in the secondary.”
What are among the explosive plays? How about a 75-yard touchdown run by Devwah Whaley? Or there’s the 73-yard reception by receiver Keon Hatcher. In fact, two of Arkansas’ three leading receivers have averages of 18.7 yards or more per catch with Hatcher’s average at 20.1.
The Razorbacks have 86 plays of 10-plus yards, and only Ole Miss (95) and Auburn (87) have more.
In Arkansas’ lone loss of the season, a 45-24 loss to Texas A&M played in “neutral” Arlington, Texas, Arkansas missed several good opportunities. The team was stopped short of the goal line on one offensive drive and had three fumbles. Given the way Alabama has pried the ball away from opponents, coaches have probably made specific preparations around this fact.
Another big key for the Aggies was quarterback Trevor Knight’s dual-threat capabilities. When he was unable to find room running the ball, he heaved it down the field for a 92-yard touchdown to Josh Reynolds. Other times, Knight took off running, and Alabama has that at its disposal with quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Aside from the big plays out of the skill positions, Alabama will need to go after quarterback Austin Allen. So far, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has dialed up exotic blitzes at just the right time. That’s helped the Tide rack up 17 sacks, second-best in the SEC.
SEC quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Stephen Johnson had fumble issues against Alabama. Da’Ron Payne recovered one of the fumbles for a touchdown, while Jonathan Allen intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it for a touchdown.
However, rattling the Razorbacks QB has been nearly impossible as he enters Week 6 as the SEC leader in pass efficiency.
“He’s a good athlete, but I’ve been very, very impressed with his decision-making, his judgment and his ability to make — he’s got a really good arm — and he’s made throws to the field, throws downfield, executes their offense extremely well, does a good job of faking on their play-action passes,” Saban said. “He’s got the highest completion percentage of any quarterback in the league and probably one of the highest efficiency ratings I would guess as well, even though I don’t look at stats that much.”