It was half my lifetime ago.

Oh, I assumed you asked the question, “when was the last time that Arkansas beat Alabama?”

Yeah, half my lifetime would be 16 years ago all the way back in 2006. Arkansas fans know that. Alabama fans might, or at the very least, they’re well aware that Nick Saban fares even better against the Razorbacks than he does against other SEC West competition. That’s saying something.

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It also says something that the showdown in Fayetteville will be just the 2nd time that Arkansas hosted the 3:30 Saturday CBS game since the start of 2018. Even after the loss to Texas A&M, I’d expect it to be a second-to-none atmosphere.

So does that mean Alabama is finally about to stumble against the Hogs? Let’s dig into that:

The Alabama stats that prevent me from thinking a blowout is in store

If you’re an Arkansas fan, you’re gonna want to file these away. As invincible as Alabama has appeared at times with just 1 loss against a non-top 15 team dating to the start of the 2011 season, let’s add some perspective to what the Tide have been since the start of the 2021 season.

Quite simply, Alabama has played with fire. A lot.

Last year, 6 of the Tide’s 8 SEC games were 1-score games in the 4th quarter. That includes the game against Arkansas. Perhaps of greater interest is that since the start of 2021, Alabama played in 5 true road games. Here’s how they played out:

  • 2021 at No. 11 Florida — W, 31-29
  • 2021 at Texas A&M — L, 41-38
  • 2021 at MSU — W, 49-9
  • 2021 at Auburn — W, 24-22 (4 OT)
  • 2022 at Texas — W, 20-19

To recap, 4 of the 5 games were decided by 3 points or less. None of those 2021 opponents had a winning record in SEC play, either.

Let’s take it a step further.

In those 5 games, Alabama committed an average of 10.2 penalties for 89.2 yards. That includes the Saban-era record 15 penalties for 100 yards that the Tide committed in that thriller at Texas 3 weeks ago. Penalties have been an equalizer for Alabama to play down to its competition.

That’s why it’s a bit surprising to see that point spread hovering around Alabama -17. We’ve got plenty of data that suggests Alabama isn’t about to go into Fayetteville and blow the doors off the Hogs.

The Drew Sanders revenge game

Ah, yes. Sanders gets to face his former team after he was the odd man out following Dallas Turner’s emergence in 2021. Sanders enters the game tied for the FBS lead in sacks (5.5), which won’t surprise anyone at Alabama. Sanders was turning into a standout player, but he wasn’t quite on Turner’s level. At least not last year.

Barry Odom and Sam Pittman have praised Sanders’ improvement, even just dating to spring ball. It’s not just his ability to get to the quarterback that made him a revelation. Sanders has also improved in coverage. If Alabama wants to get some of Arkansas’ pass rush out of sorts by running screens and swing passes, there’s a good chance that Sanders will be there to blow it up.

Sanders vs. Bryce Young is a fascinating matchup. We know the Alabama quarterback likes to extend plays with his legs to pass. How often will Sanders blitz Young? Or will he spy the Alabama quarterback in hopes of not letting him make plays outside the pocket?

I could see a world in which Sanders is celebrating his 2nd or 3rd sack of the day and we’re wondering how the most impactful player of the game couldn’t see the field after he returned from injury at Alabama last year.

Arkansas will be disrespecting Will Anderson, according to Will Anderson

Let me explain.

Check that. Let Anderson explain what he interprets as “disrespect.”

I mean … the guy has a point. Nobody is on his level. And if you reference a random game here or there that Anderson wasn’t his dominant self, tell me how many defenders it took to keep him at bay?

Anderson and the aforementioned Turner are obviously a massive part of Alabama’s defensive game plan. You cannot be 1-dimensional against that Alabama front. At the very least, you need to keep them second-guessing on the RPOs instead of pinning their ears back and anticipating those reads.

Arkansas prides itself on that up-tempo ground attack. Kendal Briles needs balance. Badly. If KJ Jefferson is going to put together scoring drives, it’ll be because he’s keeping the Tide off-balanced.

Last year, I thought Jefferson was phenomenal in this game as a passer. Yes, it helped that Treylon Burks ran away from the entire Alabama defense to inflate some of those numbers, but 73% passing for 326 yards and 3 scores was darn impressive, especially with Jefferson relatively contained in the ground game.

If Arkansas is going to do more than just disrespect Anderson by stepping on the field, Jefferson needs to play at a 2021 Ole Miss level.

Are we sure that Alabama can actually run the ball consistently?

I know, I know. Alabama has a top-10 rushing attack in FBS. What could I be referencing?

This is something I’ve been wondering about since the Texas game. I couldn’t help but notice that Bill O’Brien got Jase McClellan a lot of early work in Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. He played a career-high 25 snaps. If you recall, it was McClellan who had the 81-yard touchdown run against Texas, which was pretty much the only time the Alabama ground attack got anything going.

That was also the only time we’ve really seen this Tide rushing attack against quality competition. Arkansas is indeed quality competition. I don’t think this is as simple as hoping McClellan or the more proven Jahmyr Gibbs can bust a big play.

Speaking of Gibbs, who has been excellent after transferring from Georgia Tech, we knew that his passing game ability out of the backfield was next-level. When he’s in the game, Alabama has been far more pass-happy. Here’s his breakdown of snaps by game so far:

  • vs. Utah State: 24 passing snaps, 9 rushing snaps
  • at Texas: 30 passing snaps, 12 rushing snaps
  • vs. UL-Monroe: 16 passing snaps, 6 rushing snaps
  • vs. Vanderbilt: 24 passing snaps, 6 rushing snaps

That’s 94 passing snaps compared to just 33 rushing snaps. On 28 of his snaps, he was lined up either in the slot or out wide. Alabama is clearly relying on him more to help out Young in the passing game than they are with using Gibbs to get the ground attack going. That means McClellan should continue to get more opportunities, beginning with this week.

Alabama is going to need to establish that ground attack because we know that Arkansas loves that up-tempo ground game, which can wear down a defense over the course of 60 minutes. If the Tide hope to keep those Arkansas pass-rushers honest, establishing the run early would be huge to take some pressure off Young.

A telling day awaits the Alabama receivers against the porous Arkansas secondary

I think that’s a fair thing to say for both groups even after they showed signs of improvement last week. Against A&M, Arkansas allowed less than half of its usual average passing yards after it entered Week 4 ranked dead last in FBS. How much of that was the return of Myles Slusher and how much of that was A&M had yet to complete a pass of 30 yards?

And on the Alabama side, yes, it was great to see Ja’Corey Brooks and Jermaine Burton involved. Burton hauled in Alabama’s first passing play of 40 yards all season after it led Power 5 in that stat a year ago. But how much of that was because it was actual improvement and how much of that was the result of playing against a horrendous Vandy pass defense?

We don’t know. This game will tell us a lot about where both units are at. In theory, this should be a tasty matchup for Young if he’s able to escape pressure. Arkansas, without Jalen Catalon, hasn’t consistently shown an ability to keep guys covered when they don’t get home with pressure. Even Missouri State cooked the Hogs for over 300 yards.

Alabama’s receivers struggled to get separation downfield against Texas. You could argue that Arkansas’ secondary has been much more like Vanderbilt’s than Texas, but obviously, Young is capable of making anyone look silly. Hog fans should hold their breath any time pressure doesn’t get home.

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And a prediction … Alabama 35, Arkansas 28

I can’t quite pull the trigger on an upset, but I’m tempted. I believe Alabama has been playing with fire more than what last year’s runner-up season or what this year’s No. 2 ranking would suggest. There’s always a piece of me that expects Alabama to roll into an SEC town and take a 28-0 lead before fans can find their seats. The spread would suggest that’s a likely possibility.

This is a prime opportunity for both programs. The Arkansas angle is obvious. If the Hogs pull off an upset, you’ll be able to hear Sam Pittman’s jukebox from coast to coast. Suddenly, that Playoff conversation would be one worth having.

With Alabama, let’s not forget the significance of Saturday. No national title contender wants to have a loss by the first weekend of October. Winning out, especially with the teams Alabama will face on the road this season, is far from a given. Winning a game like this and doing so in convincing fashion would be one of the few recent instances (since the start of 2021) in which it really felt like the Tide put together a complete game against non-Vandy SEC competition.

We could very easily end the day by saying, “wow, another vintage Alabama performance.” Alternatively, we could end the day by saying, “once again, Alabama survived because it has the best offensive player in America.” I’ll take the latter.

Perhaps by day’s end, though, Arkansas will have earned Anderson’s respect.