Alabama Football: Arkansas Razorbacks defensive preview

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /

Alabama football has a major road test this week as it goes to D.W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium to take on Arkansas. The Arkansas defense will try to slow down an Alabama offense that has been tough to gauge this season.

Through four games, Alabama ranks 6th nationally with an average of 48.3 points per game. However, the Tide struggled mightily against Texas, posting just 20 points against what many consider to be its only legitimate competition. Still, Bryce Young and company appear to be finding their stride, utilizing a balanced attack that features a by-committee approach both in its running game and in its receiving corps.

Barry Odom’s Arkansas defense has implemented a boom-or-bust strategy that hasn’t always proved to be successful. The Razorbacks have put an emphasis on getting after the passer, which has led to a nation-leading 20 sacks in just four games. No other team in the country even comes close to Arkansas’ sack rate of 5 per game. However, the defense ranks 126th in the nation against the pass, allowing over 300 yards per game. This unusual statistical dichotomy speaks to Odom’s unique scheme this season, which has been the antithesis of the “drop eight” approach he has frequently taken in recent years.

A major contributing factor to this shift has been injuries. All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon and senior cornerback LaDarrius Bishop have both been lost for the season with injuries, while Myles Slusher and Georgia transfer Latavious Brini have dealt with health issues of their own.

In response, Arkansas has heavily pressured passers in an attempt to disguise the weakness, but the tactic has often left them exposed on the back end. Alabama football transfer Drew Sanders has led the pass rush, and leads the nation with 6.0 sacks to go with 32 tackles and two forced fumbles. Jordan Domineck (4.0 sacks), Zach Williams (3.0), and Landon Jackson (2.5) have also successfully gotten after quarterbacks.

Bumper Pool is Sanders’ running mate at linebacker and leads the team with 36 tackles. The fifth year senior now has 385 stops in his illustrious Arkansas career.

With the injury to Jalen Catalon, Sanders and Pool are the undisputed strength of the Hogs defense. While they are elite against the run and rushing the passer, these two linebackers don’t specialize in covering receivers in space. Running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and Jase McClellan, as well as tight end Cameron Latu, could present the Arkansas defense with a lot of headaches as a result.

Next. Arkansas offensive preview. dark

Arkansas’ defensive strategy walks a fine line between aggression and desperation, and they will give reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young ample opportunities to take advantage of mismatches in coverage.