As this epic game approaches, there are subtle messages being leaked from both camps like smoke signals. They may be provided for distractions or may relate to some truths that will unfold on gameday. Here are a few items mentioned that may have an impact on the outcome of the game.
The Arkansas Camp
Petrino said in his Monday press conference, "it's best to go with what has worked so far this year, no need to change the game plan." Petrino also stated, "We're going to stick to Razorback football. We're not going to do anything special, we're not going to do anything extraordinary for this game. We're just going to come out and play and have fun. We have a great few weeks behind us, and we're just going to build on that."
Having said this Petrino has repeatedly stated that the running game must improve; they have to get the run game going, there is no question. He said they'll just continue to teach what they've been teaching and practicing what they know until they get it right.
On the road, Petrino would rather go for the win in regulation rather than taking it into overtime, and that would have been the case at Georgia. For a home game, it's the other way around with regard to that strategy. That is a typical scenario, it is the approach Arkansas took in the UGA game and they will likely stick to the strategy in home games.
Last year's game against Alabama was a major disappointment for the Razorbacks, as a whole. Coaching and players. Petrino said in his press conference: "last year, when we stepped onto the field last year we truly didn't feel like we could beat them. We learned from that. Later in the year, when we went on the road, we played much better. After the Alabama game last year, we grew up as a football team."
Petrino went on to say, "We have to get the running game going. We have to stick with it, keep coaching it. Make sure our quarterback gets us out of bad runs into good runs. Block up front and finish our blocks. Running backs have to hit their tracks and run harder. Our receivers have to make better blocks downfield. Every single one of us have to improve."
Petrino said about the no-huddle offense, "No huddle makes things easier, Ryan Mallett understands it and knows how to run it."
Very little discussed, defensively. Though Willy Robinson had a one hour mid-week press conference he talked more about what Alabama does offensively and "what we need to do" defensively but really gave no specifics.
Aside from Dennis Johnson, the Razorbacks are not missing any key personnel offensively or defensively for this game.
The Alabama Camp
Mark Barron and Robert Lester stated earlier in the week, "We are largely untested in the secondary in our first three games, we are licking our chops to go against a quarterback such as Mallett to see where we are, defensively against someone with his talent."
Coach Saban indicated he was a little uneasy with the linebacking corp. Stating, "We are unsettled with our linebacker unit as far as the positions for our personnel to get the most out of the talent we have." He went on to say, "we have yet to establish defined roles for individuals. That needs to get done so that we can be effective against the powerful SEC offenses we will be facing in weeks to come."
McElroy, Ingram and Julio Jones stated earlier in the week, "Our passing game and rushing game is much better. No team has really been able to match up defensively to our offensive firepower."
Coach Saban's press conference touched on the respect for the Arkansas Razorbacks and their Top 10 ranking. He told the media in his Wednesday press conference, "We're excited about playing on the road against a top 10 team. It should be a challenging circumstance but we have guys who are competitors and this is the kind of game you hope to be a part of during your career."
He more emphatically stated, "this is why you come to Alabama to play football."
William Vlachos was quoted when discussing the 2009 game, "We didn't play as well against the Razorbacks last year, in fact it was my worst game. We won because Greg and the receivers had a good game."
Vlachos went on to say about playing in SEC stadiums, "It can be loud in stadiums on the road. We've practiced going on silent count. D.J. (Fluker) and Chance (Warmack) are not used to that live, but we have practiced it this week and they have picked it up well."
What 2 Watch 4
Arkansas Razorbacks Offense
Fast and Furious
Arkansas will come out swinging, throwing the deep ball to Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, hitting Joe Adams on crossing routes, or quick outlets in the flat. They want big gains, explosive plays early and often. D.J. Williams is a talented tight end who has good hands and finds open areas underneath the coverage.
The receivers are the heart and soul of the Arkansas offense. If they establish an early edge, scoring quickly, they will be able to keep the Alabama defense off balance and have them playing on their heels. That approach will allow for the run game to be established over the first half of play.
The Alabama secondary has five interceptions in three games. They are quicker in step than last year, more athletic, but a little less experienced, playing off the receivers more than Arenas, Jackson and Johnson did in man coverage.
Arkansas will mix in the run in an attempt to find balance but they will give up on the run game if their backs are stuffed on the first 6-8 run plays. If they are having success early in the game with the passing attack and find a weakness they can exploit, they will abandon the rushing game in exchange for quick scores.
Broderick Green (6' 2" 248 lb) is a big back but has yet to prove himself to be a punishing runner. Ronnie Wingo has had more success as a receiver out of the backfield rather than as a rusher. They must help their offense produce first downs or time of possession will favor the Crimson Tide and that will spell doom for the Razorbacks.
The offensive line is stout, but there are mismatches that could be lethal for the Hogs. Redshirt Alvin Bailey (6' 5", 323 lb Fr., RS) will defend against Marcell Dareus (6' 4", 306 Jr. 2V). Needless to say, Bailey will have his hands full. He is capable, physically, but the experience and explosiveness of the Alabama defensive end has been too much to handle for even the most experienced offensive linemen.
Arkansas Center Travis Swanson is also a redshirt freshman (6' 5", 305 lb). He will have all he can handle throughout the day with Josh Chapman (6' 1", 310 lb Jr., 2V) and Kerry Murphy (6' 4", 319 So., 1V) filling the nose tackle position for the Crimson Tide.
These are very key match ups that will change the complexion of the game depending on who wins the individual battles. If the redshirt freshmen step up their game in pass protection and control the line of scrimmage, Arkansas can win this game.
Expect Chapman and Murphy to rotate often, staying fresh, and pressuring the redshirt center into making mistakes. The Tackles for the Hogs are even larger individuals and with more experience. If there is going to be an opening in the front line for the Razorback rushers, it should be in the "B" gaps.
Without Dennis Johnson (injured; bowel laceration) to pressure the edges, the running game is limited to the center of the field or off tackle.
Wingo was very effective on the wheel route out of the backfield for a late score against UGA. It is a slowly developing play that may not be effective against a faster Alabama defensive line. Quarterback pressures will limit Mallett's time in the pocket.
For that reason, expect Petrino to allow Mallett to move the pocket, increasing his decision time before releasing the ball. If Mallett is throwing on the run rather than having his feet planted, it will increase the chance for turnover opportunities in favor of Alabama.
In summary, if the Razorbacks establish an effective passing game first, and follow that with effective ground game, the fans will be forever chanting "another razorback first down" so often they will become hoarse by halftime.
If time of possession favors Arkansas, they should be in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter.
Four Pronged Offensive Attack from Alabama: Four Horseman
War and Pestilence
Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson are the first two angels of destruction to be released on the Razorback defense. These young men are the first line of attack for the Alabama Crimson Tide. They are the Pride of Alabama and have been up to this point in the season, unstoppable.
While Ingram has had only nine carries (151 yards) against an overmatched Duke defense in the 2010 season, he is the reining Heisman Trophy winner and is the unquestioned leader of the running back unit for the Crimson Tide.
Ingram, Richardson and Lacy have amassed just over 600 yards in three games. Eddie Lacy has fumbled twice inside the five yard line. He will not likely see the field until the game is out of reach unless he proved to Saban that his problem was solved in practice over the past week.
Famine and Death
Greg McElroy is the angel of possession. Feast for the Crimson Tide and Famine for the Razorbacks. A master at controlling the clock and orchestrating lengthy, productive scoring drives, McElroy must be at his best against Arkansas in order to keep the ball out of the hands of Ryan Mallett.
The dagger will come from the Alabama corp of receivers, led by Julio Jones. Together with Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Earl Alexander and Brandon Gibson. Jones and company will do their best to declare themselves as the best in show.
Their counterparts in the Razorback offense are currently considered the best in the SEC. They may in fact be the best combination of receivers in the country. Time will tell as the season unfolds.
If the Alabama receivers have a productive day against the Razorback secondary, it will include effective precision strikes into the end zone. If the Crimson Tide establishes a lead of 14-21 points early in the first half, it will be the death of the Razorbacks.
An early lead will allow the highly effective running backs of the Crimson Tide to grind out a win and wear down the Arkansas defense. Hell hath no fury like the punishing, constant pounding that can be applied by the Alabama offensive line.
This game will not likely become a low scoring, defensive struggle for the ages. It will more likely become an offensive slugfest. Most prognosticators feel the Alabama defense will find ways to get enough stops on the Razorbacks offense and slow down the scoring machine.
If Jake Bequette, Demario Ambrose, Jerry Franklin and Jerico Nelson can step up their game against the Alabama juggernaut and slow down scoring production of Ingram and company, they could provide the home fans an unexpected treat of elephant hide on Saturday evening.
It will take a supernatural effort on the part of the Razorback defense. Arkansans know that Christ has a home in the Ozarks and where there is faith and hope, grace abounds. May the best team win.