Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

Alabama Football: Breaking Down the Arkansas Defense

The Alabama Crimson Tide are set for their showdown with the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon. The spread on this SEC matchup has gotten out of control with the Crimson Tide favored by as many as 22 before the line settled at 20.5. Obviously, that is with the expectation of Tyler Wilson missing the game, but even still you don’t see many SEC teams as three touchdown dogs at home.

As much as the offense struggled last week against Louisiana-Monroe following Wilson’s injury, the Hogs defense has been extremely disappointing in two games against lower competition.

Arkansas ranks 86th in the nation in total defense so far in 2012, after games against FCS foe Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe from the Sun Belt. They have given up 29 points per game through two weeks, which ranks 85th in the country.

Against the Warhawks last week, Arkansas gave up 550 yards of offense, with 412 of those yards coming through the air.

The defense has been what has held Arkansas back the last few years, and has been the big difference between them and the likes of LSU and Alabama. As good a year as the Razorbacks had in 2011, they were pretty far away from both the Tigers and Tide, losing by 24 points in each game.

Against the run this year Arkansas has been decent enough, ranking 48th in the nation giving up 116.5 yards per game. Last year they gave up over 167 yards per game on the ground, but again, they have not faced top-tier competition at this point and Louisiana-Monroe threw 68 passes against them.

Arkansas’ front seven is led by middle linebacker Tenarius Wright. Wright has made 19 total tackles in two games this season, and he’ll surely make an impact on Saturday’s game. Senior Alonzo Highsmith joins Wright on the inside, and the two of them make a strong tandem at linebacker.

The most important player on the Arkansas defense is probably hybrid Ross Rasner, who leads the team in tackles so far. Rasner plays both jack linebacker and strong safety for the Hogs. Rasner has racked up 20 total tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble through two games.

The Hogs defensive line is solid led by junior defensive end Chris Smith, and two veteran starters at defensive tackle in Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. They will obviously have their hands full against Alabama’s offensive line, but the Crimson Tide will have to do a better job in pass protection this week to be successful.

As much as Arkansas has struggled defensively, they do have six sacks in two games, and AJ McCarron has already been sacked eight times this year.

If Alabama’s offensive line plays the way they are capable of, and dominates the line of scrimmage like they did against Michigan, then Alabama should have a big day offensively with Arkansas’ much maligned secondary.

If things weren’t bad enough for the Hogs in the defensive backfield, sophomore cornerback Tevin Mitchel was carted off the field in Little Rock on Saturday, and while his injury isn’t as serious as some originally thought, he will miss Saturday’s game.

Arkansas ranks 108th in the nation against the pass this season, giving up 319.5 yards per game, which is a huge step backwards from last season. Arkansas ranked in the Top-25 nationally in pass defense in 2011 as they gave up just 195 yards per game.

The bad news for Arkansas is that AJ McCarron is undoubtedly the best quarterback they have faced this season, and through two games, not many in the country have been better than Alabama’s junior signal caller. McCarron ranks 3rd in the nation in passer efficiency, and has six touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Alabama also has a deep group of receivers that will test the likes of Darius Winston, Jerry Mitchell, and Eric Bennett in the Arkansas secondary.

The big difference this week is that Alabama has a balanced offense to attack Arkansas. Jacksonville State and Louisiana Monroe did it through the air, but the Crimson Tide have the physicality up front to impose their will on the Arkansas defensive line and run the ball with great success.

Alabama also has a strong-armed quarterback whose confidence is growing each and every week, and the Crimson Tide has the ability to hit some big plays in the passing game, as we saw last week with McCarron tossing four touchdown passes despite a lackluster effort from the running game.

This is still an SEC defense that Alabama will be up against, and they cannot be taken lightly, but after two weeks there is nothing that suggests the Crimson Tide won’t have success moving the football and putting up points.

Unless something drastic has changed from last week defensively for the Razorbacks, Alabama’s offense should have success on Saturday, and the Crimson Tide should be able to win their 21st consecutive SEC opener.

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