Arkansas vs. Alabama: What Did We Learn?

Donald FincherAnalyst ISeptember 28, 2009

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 12:  The Mascot of the Arkansas Razorbacks cheers during the game against the Florida Gators during the first round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on March 12, 2009 at The St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It could have been worse and it could have been closer. 

After watching the debacle that was the Arkansas Razorbacks performance against Alabama, one is left with a lot of question marks. 

Is Arkansas even further away from being at Alabama's level than the score indicated?  Or did the score look worse than it really was? Personally, as odd as this may sound, I think you have to say yes to both questions.

Bama is the real deal.  That's for sure.  Saban took the air out of the ball in the fourth quarter but this could have been worse.  I think there are several reasons why he did this. 

First, there was the pure sportsmanship angle for a conference brethren.  One doesn't want their conference brethren to be the victim of blowouts because it then hurts the league and, by implication, your own team.

Secondly, Petrino will have this team clicking at some point.  I don't know that Saban necessarily wants to make enemies out of the other coaches, particularly those that are capable later of putting up large numbers of points on a day in the future when his defense might not be clicking.

That being said, this game could have been two touchdowns worse.

But it also could have been two touchdowns better.

The rain and wet conditions are generally less favorable to a passing team than a running team and, as weird as it is to say after seeing Arkansas be a run-oriented team for decades, Arkansas is now a passing team.  And the rain made that more difficult.

The Bama crowd and environment were obviously hostile.  On a sunny day in Fayetteville or even at a neutral site, I'm fairly convinced that the offense would have played better against this same Bama talent.

The defense eventually wore out in the later stages but the first three touchdowns by Alabama were big play breakdowns that stuck out like sore thumbs against the backdrop of the otherwise great game the defense was playing up through that point.

There was the four missed tackles behind the line of scrimmage play which went for a 53 yard score, the razzle dazzle play to Julio Jones for a score (that I'm betting would have worked on any defense), and the long pass that the Razorback defender didn't turn around in time to see that the ball was coming in behind him.

Outside of those three plays, the defense was holding their own in the first three quarters.

While I'm still fairly convinced that Arkansas needs a new defensive coordinator, I'm also fairly convinced that this defense is a few adjustments away from having better days. Alabama began drives 14 times in the game.

However, because the last drive was a kneel the ball drive and the drive before that Saban was letting the air out, I'll only count 12 drives as real scoring threats.  Bama scored on five of those drives.  That's an improvement over the Georgia game.  And I believe that most fans could see some of the adjustments that were made between the two games.

Even playing away instead of home and playing a better team, Arkansas' defense showed better.  Granted there were a couple of scoring drives in the Georgia game where Arkansas held to field goals where Bama scored only touchdowns but the improvement was still there defensively.

With these two games behind, Arkansas is now 1-2 overall and 0-2 in conference.  They badly need a win.  Will Texas A&M be that win.  A&M is undefeated at 3-0 but has played three soft teams.  Will they be prepared for a team that's of a higher caliber than Utah State and UAB (Alabama Birmingham)?  Will Arkansas be able to channel the lessons learned from playing back to back tough games the way Georgia did with Arkansas?

Those are questions that will be answered on Saturday.  I do believe that Petrino must be feeling like his back is up against the wall.  And, from his reputation, if he's anything like those that have been around him say he is, he'll find a way to win this game.  Hopefully, the defense will get the memo.