Alabama vs. Arkansas: Keys for the Tide's Front Seven to Slow Down Alex Collins
New Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema is most known for the powerful rushing attacks he fielded during his tenure at Wisconsin.
After signing heralded 5-star running back Alex Collins in his first class, Bielema has unleashed his star freshman upon the SEC in similar fashion to running backs such as T.J. Yeldon, Todd Gurley and Jeremy Hill last season.
Meanwhile, head coach Nick Saban's defense at Alablama has traditionally been one of the nation's strongest units against the run. This season is no different, with the Tide ranking seventh nationally in rushing defense, according to cfbstats.com.
What can Alabama’s defense do in order to slow down the Razorbacks' prolific freshman rusher when they meet on Saturday, Oct. 19?
Let's take a look.
Control the Line of Scrimmage
Alabama’s defensive line has come on strong as of late, allowing a combined 206 rushing yards over the last four games.
Considering that the defensive linemen on the Tide’s two-deep unit average 300 pounds per man, it’s critical for Nick Saban’s three-man front to control the action in the trenches and take up blockers in order to give Alabama's linebackers a free path to chase down the Hogs’ rushers.
The Tide can take notes from the Razorbacks' last two opponents, Florida and South Carolina. Alex Collins, who averages nearly 103 yards rushing per game for Arkansas, combined to rush for 123 yards in those two games.
However, Collins does have a solid group of offensive linemen blocking for him and they helped pave the way for him to rush for more than 100 yards in four of the Hogs' first five games.
Neutralizing Collins' blockers will greatly help the Tide’s quest to limit his yards and touches.
At 5’11” and 206 pounds, Alex Collins is capable of getting the tough yards between the tackles. He also has the speed to break long runs on the outside.
The strength of Alabama’s defense lies up the middle, especially with inside linebackers such as C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest.
If the Tide’s defensive ends and outside linebackers can set the edge and keep Collins from getting to the corner, the rest of Alabama's pursuit stands a great chance of limiting him from piling up chunks of yardage.
The Tide’s linemen also have to do a good job of maintaining gap discipline and limit the chances of exposing cutback lanes.
Swarm to the Ball
Alex Collins is a powerful back who runs with a low center of gravity, making it tough for defenders to bring him down on first contact.
Alabama has one of the most physical and athletic rosters in college football, so the Tide should have less trouble than most in getting multiple defenders to swarm to the ball in an effort to control the Razorbacks' ground attack.
Even the Alabama safeties and corners have to be physical in defending the run against a back such as Collins.
Take on Blocks
The average weight of Arkansas’ starting offensive linemen is 320 pounds. Add 5’10”, 242-pound bruising fullback Kiero Small and it's obvious that that the Razorbacks have a solid front wall leading the way for Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
Arkansas’ brute strength in the trenches is a good test for an Alabama defense that prides itself on its physicality with its front seven.
If the Tide’s defensive line and linebackers can shed blocks effectively, the speed and athleticism of Alabama’s defense will be in good position to contain Collins if it continues to use sound fundamental tackling techniques.
Conversely, if Arkansas is able to generate a push up front, Collins will be a tough back to handle for the Tide.