Alabama and Arkansas Square Off In Huge SEC Game Saturday
Alabama’s trip to Arkansas is the nation’s top game this weekend. The number one-ranked Crimson Tide has not lost a regular season game since a November 27 loss to Auburn in 2007. This year the tenth-ranked Razorbacks believe they have the talent to take the Tide down and gain the inside track towards Atlanta and the SEC Championship game.
On paper this game looks like an excellent matchup. Each team has plenty of strengths, but there are question marks for each as well. Here is a unit by unit look at both teams.
Greg McElroy has never lost a game as a starting quarterback. Junior high, high school or college. Last year was his first as a starter for the Tide and his primary mission was to be a game manager and not make mistakes while handing the ball to the Tide’s talented backfield. This year he is being asked to make more plays while still keeping the mistakes to a minimum. He is presently the second leading passer in the SEC and the conference’s most efficient quarterback.
Ryan Mallett is ready to play QB in the NFL today. Mallett is the player most likely to win the Heisman Trophy this season even with the reigning winner Mark Ingram still playing for Alabama. Mallett averages 348 yards passing per game and is hitting 70% of his passes. Is there anything more you need to know?
Final analysis: McElroy is solid, but he does not have an arm anywhere near as strong and accurate as Mallett’s.
Alabama fans love to debate which of their backs is the best: Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram, or his understudy Trent Richardson. It is a legitimate debate. Richardson is a step faster and very strong. Ingram is a bit quicker and sheds tackles after contact better. Ingram missed the Tide's first two games following knee surgery, but had 101 yards rushing in his first three carries alone against Duke last weekend. Richardson averages 6.9 yards per carry. Oh, he also took a kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown against Duke.
Arkansas fans also debate who their best back is. The difference is they don’t like the results any of them are producing on a consistent basis. Four players will run the ball for Arkansas, and each has had their shining moments, but the result of their efforts collectively has Arkansas ranked the worst team in the SEC for running the football.
Final analysis: Alabama will provide a steady diet of Richardson and Ingram.
Julio Jones can be a game changer and you can expect to see him doubled up all day Saturday. Jones is a great talent and is considered by many to be the finest receiver in the SEC. Here is something to file away: Despite his obvious ability, he sometimes drops balls he should catch. After Jones, Bama will look to Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. Both have adequate speed, but too few opportunities to catch the ball.
Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and tight end D.J. Williams comprise the best group of receivers in the nation. Williams is an All-American and the underrated Childs may be even better than Alabama’s Jones and Georgia standout A.J. Green. He is at least their equal. Adams and Wright are both speedsters who can break any touch into a touchdown. All of the Arkansas receivers can be seen blocking downfield for each other.
Final analysis: D.J. Williams is the key to keeping drives alive for the Razorbacks. Mallett needs to keep him involved in the game.
Alabama had played 42 straight quarters of football without an offensive lineman being called for holding until the first quarter of their game with Penn State. Given the way the Tide plays the game that is a pretty impressive number. The unit has only allowed the opposition to make 13 tackles for a loss this season.
The most important job a Razorback lineman has is to protect Ryan Mallett. The Hogs do this well, as Mallett has only been sacked four times this year. What causes concern with this group is the lack of a running game. All of the backs have backgrounds that indicate they should perform better. It has to be considered that Petrino’s emphasis on pass protection may take away from the time needed to develop steady run-blocking techniques.
Final analysis: This one is close, but Alabama has shown the ability to run and pass. You can’t do either well without the guys upfront doing their job.
Down the road the Tide secondary is going to be very good. Right now they are highly inexperienced. Both Penn State and Duke had receivers getting inside position that Arkansas will exploit. Receivers have also found space underneath that should concern Bama fans. The game will be won or lost by the play of Alabama’s secondary.
The Razorbacks have not looked spectacular this year, but much better than their 2009 campaign. This year’s secondary is more athletic and slightly more experienced. The challenge for Hog DB’s will be to stay disciplined in coverage while providing adequate support against the rush.
Final analysis: The game will be won or lost by the performance of this position group.
Marcel Dareus is back. After sitting out his NCAA suspension he made his way back onto the field against Duke. Dareus is big, strong and fast. His presence will make the Alabama pass rush better and keep Arkansas from getting to Bama’s linebackers as easily. To have a chance Bama will have to pressure Mallett and this season they have only managed to create two sacks.
When a team is only allowing the opposition 2.8 yards per carry something good is happening. Led by Jake Bequette, the Razorback defense has also tallied twelve sacks on the year. If they can slow down Ingram and Richardson it will create more opportunities for Mallett and crew to put points on the board.
Final Analysis: The numbers say Arkansas is the better unit. The eye test says Bama. We are going with what we see.
The Tide is strong at every position. Remember, Alabama had to replace most of their defense after last season’s national title. The group that is starting this year was regarded as one of the best in the nation before the first game was even played. They have not disappointed.
This year’s crew is the fastest Arkansas has had in recent memory. They are able to play sideline to sideline and tackle well. Anthony Leon made the move from the secondary to linebacker and the transition has gone smoother than anyone could have anticipated. His presence has been one of the most significant reasons Arkansas has shown so much improvement on defense.
Final analysis: Despite the improvement Arkansas has shown in this area Alabama just has more depth and talent.
Nick Saban has the ability to focus like a laser beam and has collected two national titles in his career.
Bobby Petrino is the best play caller in college football. He also has his Razorback squad believing they can win this game.
Final analysis: The call for coaching edge is closer than many people think.
The winner will be?
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