Alabama Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Tide's Win over the Razorbacks
Two weeks ago, the matchup between Alabama and Arkansas looked like one of the biggest early showdowns of the young 2012 season.
After the Crimson Tide’s 52-0 beatdown of the Razorbacks, the scene in Fayetteville resembled a funeral for the once-promising program built by former Hogs head coach Bobby Petrino.
Nick Saban’s defense earned its second consecutive shutout victory, and have held its opponents scoreless in the last nine consecutive quarters.
What did the demolition of the Razorbacks teach us about the top-ranked team in the nation?
Here are 10 things we learned from Alabama’s win over Arkansas.
10. Eddie Lacy Is Back
Eddie Lacy’s stat line—12 carries for 55 yards—in Saturday’s victory was not exactly eye-popping.
However, the junior scored three touchdowns and looked more like the bruising force that entered this season as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
Injuries have plagued Lacy this year, but considering the sharp cut he was able to make on his six-yard score in the first quarter—his ankle issues seem to be firmly behind him.
9. Defense Is Still Elite
The losses from last season’s record-setting defensive unit have been well documented, but there were questions entering this season surrounding just how good Alabama’s unit this season could be.
Considering that the defense has recorded consecutive shutouts for the first time in Saban’s tenure at the Capstone, it looks to be a safe assumption to call them one of the nation’s best units.
With Sun Belt cellar-dweller Florida Atlantic up next, that number could grow to three sooner than later.
The Tide limited Arkansas to minus-11 rushing yards in the first half, and just 137 yards of total offense for the game.
8. Future Is Bright
Lacy’s three-touchdown day was impressive, but a pair of his young understudies were also able to find pay dirt against the Razorbacks.
True freshman backs T.J. Yeldon (13 carries for 55 yards) and Kenyan Drake (six carries for 57 yards) took turns pounding the Hogs into submission.
Add in true freshman wideout Amari Cooper—whose second quarter 20-yard reception from quarterback AJ McCarron represented the only points scored through the air—and it appears Saban’s offense is stacked with playmakers for the foreseeable future.
7. Backup QB by Committee
Perhaps the biggest concern for Tide fans in the offseason was the murky backup situation behind McCarron after the transfer of Phillip Sims.
Redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and sophomore Blake Sims saw limited action in the first two games, but both players saw action and appeared capable of moving the offense if their numbers are called in the future.
Sims looked particularly impressive because of his ability to add the running element from the quarterback position—a skill he displayed on a nifty 27-yard touchdown run where he kept the ball on a zone read play.
That said, it looks like Alabama may have two options to turn to should anything force McCarron to miss action this season.
6. OL Is Who We Thought They Were
One can only wonder what last week’s practices must have been like for Alabama’s vaunted offensive line after they gave up six sacks and rushed for a paltry 103 yards against Western Kentucky.
Whatever message the coaching staff had for its prized pupils in the trenches, it's apparent that the veteran unit heard the signals loud and clear.
The Razorbacks did not record a sack, and Alabama racked up 225 yards and six rushing touchdowns in its first game against a conference opponent.
The line looked like the dominant unit most fans envisioned them to be entering the season.
5. Kenyan Drake Could Be Eventual Replacement for Fowler
Defensive tackle Jesse Williams lined up at fullback for play against the Razorbacks, but he will not ultimately be responsible for replacing the injured Jalston Fowler.
Despite not getting a fraction of the buzz generated by Yeldon, Drake has made the most of the opportunities he has received.
The 6’1”, 204-pounder appears to be the best candidate to fill the do-it-all role vacated after Fowler went down for the season with a knee injury.
At the very least, Drake appears to have jumped into the third spot in the running back rotation behind Lacy and Yeldon.
4. Secondary Worries Are No More
The one question surrounding the defense has been the lapses they suffered later in the opener against Michigan.
Sophomore safeties Vinnie Sunseri—apparently a magnet for forcing turnovers—and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix each picked off passes from Hogs quarterback Brandon Allen, and each played a significant role in limiting the high-powered Arkansas passing offense to just 79 yards passing.
Veteran corner Dee Milliner once again looked the part of a first-round-caliber corner with another strong performance.
3. Field-Goal Kicking Has Improved
The last time Alabama suffered a defeat, field-goal kickers Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster suffered from the brunt of the aftermath after the pair of Tide kickers combined to miss five kicks in a 9-6 overtime loss to LSU last November.
Shelley found his redemption with five made kicks in the BCS title game rematch, and Foster may have finally gotten his reprieve when he calmly nailed a 51-yard attempt early in the second quarter with room to spare.
Foster missed a second long attempt off the uprights, but it's clear that he has improved considerably since last year.
2. Tide Dominate Turnover Margin
Through three games, Alabama has enjoyed a huge advantage in one of the singular most important statistics in football—turnover margin.
The Tide have turned it over just once—when Eddie Lacy fumbled on the final play of the first half against Michigan—and forced their opponents into 12 miscues.
If Alabama is able to keep dominating that category moving forward, there’s a strong chance that this season will end up looking similar to the 2009 and 2011 seasons.
1. Offense May Be Best in SEC
Saban’s offense has always strived to achieve balance—even at the expense of being less explosive.
This year, new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier appears to have walked into a situation that is the envy of most coaches across the nation.
The Tide have a veteran quarterback coming into his own as a passer in McCarron, an offensive line that could have three first-round picks and young skill talent that has the potential to make up the most talented group in the nation’s toughest conference.