TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After six games against spread offenses, up-tempo attacks and Georgia State, Alabama finally matches up with a team that plays its brand of football.
Arkansas had a great start to the season, winning its first three games against a murderous lineup of UL-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Miss. But once the Razorbacks started playing teams that were decently adept at football, they unfurled with four straight losses to Rutgers, Texas A&M, Florida and South Carolina. But even though the Razorbacks are trying to stop the downward spiral, Alabama’s head coach Nick Saban has been piling on the compliments this week.
“I think Arkansas is one of the most challenging teams that we’ve played this year, especially in their ability to run the ball,” Saban said. “It doesn’t matter who their opponent has been and what they’ve tried to do, they have been able to run the ball effectively on each and every team that they’ve played.”
While Arkansas does average 216 rushing yards per game - the 24th-ranked rushing game in the country - the rest of its team is lacking the continuity of previous years. The run first, run second, run always style of play under new head coach Bret Bielema also fits right into Alabama’s defensive standard preparation: The Crimson Tide’s defense practices against the best slow and steady offensive attack in the country every day in practice - their own.
Alabama’s defense - ranked second in the country in points against and seventh in rushing defense - doesn’t post a goal for points scored or first downs allowed, it has one benchmark in each game: hold the opponent to 3.3 yards per carry or under, which it’s only failed to do against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M.
"We know what they can do. They have a good run game and they’re going to do what they do,” Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “Just because they’re playing us doesn’t mean they’re going to change anything up.”
Alabama’s players will have to readjust to playing an offense that actually huddles and runs straight up the middle, which shouldn’t be too hard. But in the Southeastern Conference, no opponent can be taken lightly, even Arkansas.
“It’s an SEC opponent, they’re in our conference, it’s a big game for us,” Mosley said. “And we know that no matter what the score has been in the past, it’s always been a physical game from the start to the end.”
Even though Arkansas has struggled this season, and last, and has never beaten Saban since he’s been at Alabama, the Crimson Tide’s coach and his players refuse to overlook their downtrodden opponent.
“I’ve been asked too many times already about last year’s game, last week’s game, our game, their game. It doesn't have anything to do with this game,” Saban said. “It does not have any effect on the outcome of this game.
“It’s going to be about how we play when we play on Saturday. That’s what our players need to understand.”