HZT PREGAME: Arkansas at Alabama


Week seven of the 2013 college football season brings us number one ranked Alabama playing host to SEC west rival Arkansas and their new head coach from Wisconsin, Brett Bielema. This is the Tide’s seventh game on the year and they remain number one in the standings during this last season of the BCS formula for rankings and bowl births. Despit the Tide remaining atop the standings, the media talking heads have begun to undersell the Crimson Tide as the top school as we inch closer to the last ever, initial BCS rankings release. The mainstream media wants to create buzz and get people talking so of course claiming the very last BCS regulated season is already flawed is a good way to accomplish it. Maybe oregon is the most deserving team, maybe they should be on top of the rankings, but whether they’re number one or not, both of these schools simply have to win out and they’re dancing all the way to Pasadena and in my opinion; the worst thing that could happen to a Ducks team looking for its first BCS title would be to face an Alabama defense that has been disrespected, disregarded and overlooked .

We are however a half of a season away from the finale and have an Arkansas team to deal with following an embarrassing 52-7 defeat at the hands of Spurrier and his Gamecocks. Alabama had their way with the Razorbacks last season with John L Smith behind the wheel of the sinking ship of a program that Petrino left his successor to deal with and i’m quite sure there are some Arky players who would love a chance at redemption in any form over the Tide. Although the Tide and Hogs aren’t traditional rivals, due to the rise of both programs several years ago when the Hogs put themselves square in the middle of the SEC west race with Bama and LSU. Since losing their head coach, the Hogs have plummeted to the depths of the SEC abyss and are in the midst of clawing their way out under the guidance of new head ball coach Brett Bielema. Bielema brought a polar opposite gameplan than that of  Bobby Petrino to Arkansas from Wisconsin with his pro-style offense and run heavy offensive scheme as opposed to Petrino’s up-tempo, 5 wide receiver spread offense. That scheme change is a big one and one that requires almost a complete overhaul of personnel on the field and the type’s of players they recruit in order to make the change work. Until they get the players they need, they’ll suffer through games like this one and hope to learn some lessons along the way.

The Hog run game is among the better run games Alabama has faced this season so far with #1 back Collins averaging 102 yards per game and #2 back Williams is racking up an average 80 yds per game providing a legitimate ground game that demands attention from the DB’s which should open up passing lanes. Fortunately, what the Razorbacks can do well on offense the Tide so happens to defend those things better than anyone in the nation. Bama’s defensive line has been questioned once again this season in terms of QB pressure and sack production but their effectiveness against the run is unsurpassed. The Tide’s defensive line has yet another good set of circumstances to improve on their pass rush techniques and production but whether they take advantage of it or not remains to be seen. D-lineman A’Shawn Robinson is one guy who seems to be improving week to week and he is becoming one of the best rushers on the defense as a true freshman. Robinson along with fellow freshman Jon Allen have begun to make their name and are the sole reason for excitement about the defensive line’s future.

Tide linebackers will continue to do what they do and they’ll do it well but this week’s water cooler talk surrounds HaHa Clinton-Dix being cleared by the NCAA to return to the field in what looks to be great timing regarding the schedule. Alabama plays Arkansas this week of course and then next week against Tennessee in stretch of home games over the next four weeks (one week is a bye) ending with the LSU Tigers. HaHa will have 2 full games to return to full speed and readjust to game speed before squaring off against the most complete passing team on the schedule in LSU. This is also good news regarding timing where the cornerbacks are concerned, notably with Eddie Jackson trying to get an injured ankle back to 100% before facing the Tigers. Bradley Sylve has been starting at corner opposite Belue in Jackson’s absence, causing some fans to speculate Sylve becoming the starter ahead of Jackson but the staff doesn’t see it that way. Jackson and sylve both need more reps and game experience and they both should see plenty of playing time. Jackson has to take it easy on the ankle but also needs reps to help him keep improving so don’t be surprised to see these 2 splitting time.  Saban knows he needs Jackson to be close to, if not, 100% when LSU comes calling because he gives them the best chance at success defending the pass so don’t read too much into it if he sees action on a limited basis.

The Tide offense wrote a chapter in the history books last week with two 100 yard rushers and a 200 yard passer in the same game for the first time in Bama history. the more we see Kenyan Drake the more he displays his dangerous speed out of the backfield. Drake is simply fun to watch play, even though he hasn’t been given a ton of carries or had a lot of big runs yet, every time he touches the ball, you get that feeling like he is on the verge of taking it all the way. Drake and Yeldon have both stepped up their games, along with the O-line’s run blocking, but they have got to secure the ball better when in close quarters with defenders. The mental errors, dropped passes, off-sides and fumbles aren’t characteristics of teams who ate taking the opponent seriously and focusing on doing the little things right. This past week the Tide staff took advantage of the opportunity to get the players back to working on technique, focus and fundamental football and their performance doing the little things correctly this week should by all intents and purposes be evident. Week after week passes bye and week after week predictions fly around about this being the week Cooper gets his feet wet in the passing game but it has yet to happen so we wait……maybe this week huh.

The offensive line is looking much better than the line that started the first games of the year but the staff also understands that the quality of defensive linemen they have been facing isn’t on the level with the best lines in the league. It seems as though they have come into their own but until a legitimate defense with the talent equivalent of Alabama comes along, we really don’t know what we have. That is one of the main reasons for Saban to be priming freshman Grant Hill to play more down the stretch at right tackle and because his youth & athleticism allows the play calling to go in a different way, depending on what defense we’re facing. Regardless of what saban says at the podium or on the radio show, these next two games will be geared towards preparing for LSU on both sides of the ball. Decisions on which players get reps and which ones need to rest will all be dictated around doing what gives the tide the best chance for success in three weeks.

Alabama would need to fail coaching, the players would need to be unprepared and uninspired and the Razorbacks would need to play a perfect game along with some lucky breaks to lose this particular game and that isn’t likely to happen. Arkansas has talent and somewhere in there is the capability to win this game under the right circumstances but it’s probably not happening. The Hogs are set on running a Bama type, pro-style, run heavy to set up the pass offense and they play right into what the Tide does best. Alabama is the worst matchup for Arkansas scheme wise and personnel wise during a rebuilding stage but on the bright side, the players will see first hand what their new head coach is trying to do on offense.  If everything goes as planned, the Tide starters should be watching from the sidelines shortly after halftime and the backups should be getting all important reps on the field once again.

PREDICTION : Alabama 48 Arkansas 6