(1) Alabama (2-0) at Arkansas (1-1)|
Saturday, September 15, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama Crimson
Tide open up SEC play this weekend on the road, when they take on the Arkansas
Razorbacks in Fayetteville.
The Crimson Tide have won 20 straight SEC openers dating back to 1992 and have
definitely looked the part of a team determined to not only win the conference
crown, but a third national title in the last three four years. Nick Saban's
squad opened up the season with an impressive 41-14 rout of nationally-ranked
Michigan and followed that up with a 35-0 shutout of Western Kentucky last
Arkansas went through a great deal of adversity in the off-season with the
dismissal of Bobby Petrino. Still, under John L. Smith's guidance and a full
array of offensive weapons, the Razorbacks were considered a real threat in
the SEC. The season-opener presented its own challenges however, as Arkansas
defeated FCS foe Jacksonville State 49-24. That was followed by last weekend's
stunning home loss to ULM (34-31 OT), dropping the Razorbacks from a top-10
ranking all the way out of the national polls.
The loss doesn't change anything according to Smith in terms of Arkansas'
"It has to be a positive week. We have to go to the field. We have to practice
that way. We are still undefeated in the league. We still have the same goals
in front of us to win an SEC Championship. We just have to bounce back and get
it done. We have to prepare well and play well. That's where we will start."
Arkansas has won 12 straight at home and is 3-1 all-time against a defending
national champion in Fayetteville. Alabama holds a 12-8 series advantage and
has won the last four meetings, including a 38-14 victory in Tuscaloosa last
Alabama lost tailback Jalston Fowler for the season with a knee injury, but if
any team in the country can assuage a loss like that, it is the Crimson Tide,
who have one of the deepest backfields in the nation. Averaging 167.5 yards
per game early on, Alabama will lean on tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (8.0 ypc, one
TD) and Eddie Lacy (3.9 ypc, one TD).
The emphasis isn't solely on the ground game in Tuscaloosa anymore, as
quarterback A.J. McCarron has been on point in the first two games. He has
completed 62.5 percent of his passes, for 418 yards, with six TDs and no
Kevin Norwood has proved to be the go-to-guy thus far, leading the team in
receptions (6), receiving yards (145) and tied for the team lead in TD catches
Despite the loss of several All-Americans to the NFL, Alabama's defense is
still getting the job done, including last weekend's shutout of the
Hilltoppers. The active Tide have already forced seven turnovers (three fumble
recoveries, four interceptions).
Junior linebacker C.J. Mosley has been impressive in the first two games and
could be the next All-American defender in Tuscaloosa. The 6-2 junior leads
the team with 18 tackles, with one sack and one interception. The linebacking
corps is bolstered by senior Nico Johnson (13 tackles).
The Razorbacks may test Alabama's defense with a passing attack that is
netting 340.5 yards per game through two outings. All-American candidate Tyler
Wilson is one of the nation's premier signal-callers and was playing like it
(.638 passing, for 563 yards and five TDs against just one INT) prior to a
head injury suffered against ULM last week that sent him to the sideline.
Listed as questionable for the contest earlier in the week, there is a good
chance now that Wilson will not suit up at all for the game.
Tight end Chris Gragg has emerged as Wilson's top target, leading the team in
receptions (14), receiving yards (193) and TD catches (2). He will be asked to
be even more of a relief valve this week if either junior Brandon Mitchell or
redshirt freshman Brandon Allen are under center.
The ground game has been subdued thus far, averaging just 130.0 yards per
game, but tailback Knile Davis (66.0 ypg) is as good as it gets in the SEC and
will get better as the season wears on, coming off a lost 2011 due to injury.
The Razorbacks have shown themselves vulnerable to the pass this season,
yielding a generous 319.5 ypg, contributing to the 436.0 yards of total
offense relinquished per game. The team has recorded six sacks and 16 TFLs,
but has only forced two turnovers.
Senior safety Ross Rasner has made plays all over the field, pacing the team
with 20 tackles, while registering one INT and one forced fumble. Linebackers
Tenarius Wright (19 tackles) and Alonzo Highsmith (15 tackles, one sack) are
next in line.
Saban still knows Arkansas is a dangerous adversary regardless of last week's
"We are playing a really good Arkansas team. Regardless of what happened last
week, that doesn't change how we feel and how we respect their players and the
team that they have. They have a very good team. They had some very difficult
misfortune in the last game that they weren't able to overcome. We still have
to expect that we are going to get their very best performance. We need to
have our very best performance if we are going to be able to play the kind of
game that we need to play on the road to have a chance to be successful
against what we think is a very good team."
Saban has led the Crimson Tide to a perfect 19-0 mark in the month of
September under his watch. The streak is likely to continue. Arkansas has the
ability to move the football up and down the field, but has struggled with
consistency thus far. If Wilson can't go, it is likely that the Crimson Tide
will roll on through Fayetteville.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 37, Arkansas 17
09/14 16:21:46 ET