#3 ALABAMA (-17.5) 41 Arkansas 19
The rumors that Arkansas would have an explosive offense in the second year of Bobby Petrino's tenure are certainly true. It's also true that Arkansas still struggles defensively, as Georgia proved last week in racking up 533 yards at 8.9 yards per play in their 52-41 win over the Razorbacks last week.
Georgia has a good offense, but allowing 8.9 yppl is horrendous and Alabama has a more well rounded offense that the Bulldogs do. Alabama has a bruising ground game that has averaged 287 yards at 6.7 yards per rushing play and quarterback Greg McElroy has averaged an efficient 8.7 yards per pass play. Bama had the luxury of facing a couple of Sun Belt teams at home the last two weeks (averaged 7.8 yppl in each game), but the Tide also ran and passed the ball all over Virginia Tech on their way to 508 yards at 6.5 yppl against a very good defense.
Arkansas' defense took a drastic change for the worse when top LB Jerry Franklin was ejected from the game in the 2nd quarter. With Franklin on the field the Hogs only allowed 86 yards on 19 plays (4.5 yppl), including 14 yards on 12 running plays, and they gave up 447 yards on 40 plays after Franklin was ejected (11.2 yppl). Obviously, missing one guy doesn't make THAT much of a difference but losing Franklin did have an impact. Franklin is back in the lineup this week but it's pretty safe to say that Alabama will move the ball pretty easily against the Hogs.
The question is how well Alabama's dominating defense will handle the potent Arkansas offense. Razorbacks' quarterback Ryan Mallett has been as good as any quarterback in the nation through his first two games, averaging 11.2 yards per pass play, including 9.7 yppl against a slightly better than average Georgia pass defense.
Alabama's pass defense is far better than average, as the Tide returned 8 defensive starters (3 of 4 defensive backs) from a unit that yielded just 5.0 yards per pass play and 4.3 yppl to a schedule of teams that would combine to average 6.2 yppp and 5.5 yppl against an average team. The Tide defense is even better this season, allowing just 3.9 yppp and 3.4 yppl to teams that would combine to average 5.1 yppp and 4.9 yppl against an average defensive team.
Alabama pulled their subs with big leads the last two games, which explains why their best defensive performance was the 3.1 yppl that they allowed to Virginia Tech, when their starting defense played the entire game and were motivated by a good opponent. Alabama's defense will certainly be focused for this game and while they won't shut down Arkansas' potent attack, they should be able to contain it (I project 5.4 yppl for the Hogs). Meanwhile, the Alabama offense will score with regularity and should ultimately pull away.
The conservative version of my ratings, in which I rate Arkansas' defense at only 0.2 yppl worse than average when it has been much worse than that so far this season, favor Alabama by 19 points in this game. Using this year's games only would favor the Crimson Tide by 27 1/2 points.
In addition to the line value, Alabama applies to a solid 92-42-1 ATS statistical indicator based on their strong defensive numbers. I'll consider Alabama a Strong Opinion at -17 or less.
Read more on my website www.drbobsports.com
Read an article about me in the Wall Street Journal