Arkansas vs Alabama: Keys to Victory for Each Side in SEC West Showdown
The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide look to continue rolling this weekend at home against SEC West foe Arkansas; and it'll be a steep climb for the Razorbacks to even flirt with an upset bid Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
While Nick Saban's squad boasts an advantage in seemingly every category and Arkansas comes in off of four straight losses, stranger things have certainly happened in football. Each team will have to stick to the keys in order to have the best shot at victory.
Let's take a look at the biggest keys for each team in Saturday's contest.
Establish T.J. Yeldon As Feature Back
Early on in the season, T.J. Yeldon tore it up, looking poised for a Heisman contending campaign.
Then, he started fumbling the ball and gave daylight to his backfield counterpart Kenyan Drake, who has nearly matched him in carries as of late.
The Tide are far from thin at the running back position, but there's no doubt that Yeldon is the best bet. He rushed for over 1,100 yards as a freshman—on a squad loaded with depth—and has gone from just a speedy back to a hard-nosed rusher who can bruise up opposing linebackers.
It certainly won't decide the game outright if Yeldon doesn't get going, but he's their best option moving forward throughout the season, and they'll need him to fulfill the championship-or-utter-failure aspirations in Tuscaloosa.
Look for Nick Saban to give it to his feature back more than ever as the Tide face a decent rush defense.
Stuff the Run
If Alabama is going to give Arkansas any chance to win this game, it'll have to be through the air and not on the ground.
Arkansas' potent rushing attack (which I break down below) has captivated the conference as it boasts two backs in the top six in rushing. Those aren't numbers you see very often from a 3-4 team.
Knowing how it fared against Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen in the last go-around, expect defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to constantly pack eight, maybe nine at times, in the box to stifle any possibility of the Hogs' backs gaining momentum early on.
Depending on how well the offense fares, shutting down the Razorbacks' rushing game for just a quarter or so might be all it takes. By then, Arkansas could be down a couple of scores and need to push the envelope through the air.
Turn Brandon Allen Into Star Overnight
It may be too much to ask, but the Razorbacks offense will need quarterback Brandon Allen to have a near opposite performance than last year. He'll have to serve as much more than just a caretaker to the running game.
A Tyler Wilson injury forced Allen into the starter's role as a freshman last year against the defending champions. It resulted in two picks and failure to surpass 100 yards through the air. The Tide rolled, 52-0.
This year hasn't been much better for the sophomore. He started off well before injuring his shoulder, and since, he has thrown four picks in the last three games—all losses.
Arkansas' most impressive performance of the season, a 45-33 loss to Texas A&M, came off of three touchdown passes and 283 yards from Allen. It wasn't a coincidence that they nearly knocked off a top-10 opponent.
If Bret Bielema wants any conceivable shot of being anywhere near victory in the ball game come the second half, he'll need Allen to step up like he did against the Aggies—only much more.
Get Both Backs Going, With Caution
Arkansas' running game has taken off this season. Two backs rank in the top six among SEC rushers. But they'll need to proceed with caution to make sure they aren't too beat up by the fourth quarter.
How many rushing yards will Arkansas need to win?
Freshman Alex Collins has been the story so far, racking up 720 yards on 123 carries and amassing four touchdowns. And along with sophomore Jonathan Williams, who has 564 yards of his own on just 87 carries, they form the SEC's most formidable rushing duo thus far.
The two have split carries pretty evenly this year, with Collins getting the nod more often. But Arkansas will need to preserve both of them for the second half and make sure one doesn't get too beat up by that dominating Alabama defense.
Against Alabama, nobody runs the ball—with few exceptions. Virginia Tech's Trey Edmunds totaled 132 yards on the ground against the Tide. And Texas A&M's QB Johnny Manziel had nearly 100 yards. Arkansas could do the same, but only if they take care of both Collins and Williams and keep them fresh in the final 15 minutes.
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