TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama hasn't seen anything like it this season.
After playing the "new wave" of SEC offenses—up-tempo, spread, no-huddle, air raid, read-option—in their first three conference games, the Crimson Tide will finally play a smashmouth football team when they host the Arkansas Razorbacks in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.
First-year head coach Bret Bielema has brought his downhill running game from Madison over to Fayetteville, where fans are used to seeing a four- and five-wide receiver passing spread. And so far, the running game has had success.
Freshman running back Alex Collins is second in the SEC in total rushing yards with 720, and backup Jonathan Williams ranks sixth in the league with 564.
The Razorbacks have rushed for more than 100 yards in every game, hitting the 200-yard mark in five of their seven games so far. Arkansas is second to only Auburn in rushing yards in the SEC.
Simply put: The Hogs' run game is really good, even if the rest of the team isn't.
On the other hand, Alabama is averaging just 87.17 rushing yards against teams this year, good for seventh in the country. The Crimson Tide has held all but their first two opponents, Virginia Tech and Texas A&M, to less than 100 yards rushing.
It will be strength versus strength this weekend in Tuscaloosa.
"It's something you've just got to get adjusted to playing the downhill football, smash mouth football," senior linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "Back to old school football with us. But that's nothing new at Alabama."
Alabama will probably win the game. That isn't exactly a bold prediction.
The Crimson Tide are on a roll through the middle of their SEC schedule and only appear to be picking up steam. Meanwhile, Arkansas has dropped four in a row, including ugly losses to Florida and South Carolina.
But this game is important, because it will be somewhat of a preview for one of the key matchups in Alabama's game against LSU: the power run game versus the Tide's defensive front.
Alabama coach Nick Saban never overlooks an opponent, but we can. Alabama will most likely crush Arkansas and crush Tennessee, setting up a game against LSU that decides who wins the SEC West, goes to Atlanta and potentially goes to Pasadena for the national championship game.
LSU's strength this year has been its power run game. Jeremy Hill has already rushed for 715 yards on the year and is averaging 7.3 yards per carry. With the new shift in offensive philosophy in the SEC, Alabama hasn't seen a power run game like that this year.
Alabama lost run-stopping linebacker Nico Johnson to graduation last year, as well as defensive linemen Damion Square and Jesse Williams.
But like any year, Alabama has just reloaded.
C.J. Mosley has assumed full-time inside linebacker duties at the "Will" linebacker spot, where he previously split time with Johnson depending on the down. Freshman A'Shawn Robinson has been a man-child on the defensive line, leading the team in sacks (four) and tackles for loss (five) this year. Other linemen like Jeoffrey Pagan, Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake have also seen increased roles on the line.
So the Crimson Tide clearly have the personnel to stop the Hogs on the ground.
But unlike it will against Arkansas, Alabama won't have the luxury of loading up the box to stop the run against LSU. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger sits atop the SEC in passing yards, while Arkansas' Brandon Allen is 12th.
Stopping the run is something Alabama always prides itself in. The Crimson Tide will face their biggest challenge on the ground to date Saturday. It could show just how prepared they are for LSU.