Arkansas at Alabama

Sports Xchange

October 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7:15 p.m. ET
SITE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TV: ESPN
SERIES: Alabama leads 19-8 (two Alabama wins forfeited/vacated). The Crimson Tide won 59-30 in 2016.
RANKINGS: Alabama No. 1

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Razorbacks

–RB David Williams, who transferred to Arkansas as a graduate student after playing three seasons with South Carolina, had a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against his former team. It was the sixth touchdown of the season for Williams, one more than he had in three years with the Gamecocks.

–WR Jonathan Nance caught his fifth touchdown pass of the season against South Carolina on a 34-yard pass from backup quarterback Cole Kelley. Nance leads the Razorbacks with 23 receptions for 374 yards and has a knack for big plays. His five touchdown catches have averaged 32.2 yards and four have been 31 yards or longer.

–DE Sosa Agim will be looking to start a new streak of getting at least a half-tackle for loss after seeing his streak end at five games in last week’s loss at South Carolina. He leads Razorback defensive linemen in tackles with 18 stops and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (4.0).

–LB Dre Greenlaw is approaching the 200 mark for career tackles and would become just the seventh Razorback to accomplish that. He has 176 with 39 of them coming this year.

Crimson Tide

–QB Jalen Hurts has yet to throw an interception in 111 pass attempts and is passing for an average of 145 yards a game, but his real damage comes in the running game. The sophomore leads the Tide in rushing with 517 yards and has rushed for five touchdowns to go with seven touchdown passes.

–RB Damien Harris shares the workload with Bo Scarbrough (59 carries to Scarbrough’s 65) but has gained 500 yards to Scarbrough’s 294. Harris had a 75-yard touchdown run against Texas A&M and is averaging 8.5 yards per carry.

–NG Da’Ron Payne will have a key role in plugging up Arkansas’ running game. He is second on the team in tackles with 29 stops with half-a-sack.

–DE Isaiah Buggs is coming off a 10-tackle game in the win over Texas A&M and likely will continue to man the fort with De’Shawn Hand out injured. Buggs has 22 tackles for the season.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Alabama coach Nick Saban used the media to deliver an unusual message to his players last week after the Crimson Tide, coming off consecutive poundings of two Southeastern Conference opponents, needed all 60 minutes before putting away Texas A&M.

“I’m trying to get our players to listen to me instead of listening to you guys,” Saban said after the 27-19 win over the Aggies. “All that stuff you write about how good we are, all that stuff they hear on ESPN, it’s like poison. It’s like taking poison. It’s like rat poison.”

Saban’s comments have gotten a lot of run this week, and one of the storylines heading into Saturday’s home game against Arkansas is how well his players have avoiding swallowing the poison. The No. 1 Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC) and unranked Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) kick off at 7:15 p.m. ET at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa with ESPN doing the telecast.

The Hogs are coming off a 48-22 loss to South Carolina but pushed Texas A&M to overtime before losing to the Aggies on Sept. 23.

“You can sit here and talk about what they have not done as a team or you can say they should have beaten Texas A&M and they’re very capable of scoring a lot of points and being a very good team,” Saban said. “Their defense is a very sound and solid group that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and you’ve got to work hard to execute well to beat them.

“This is going to be a challenging team. It always has been for us, and we’re certainly going to prepare that way.”

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema typically fields a physical team with a strong running game. The Razorbacks are averaging 32.6 points and 185 rushing yards per game but have been inconsistent, running for only 106 on 32 attempts against the Gamecocks.

Moreover, senior quarterback Austin Allen’s status was unclear early in the week after he suffered a shoulder injury last week. He was able to practice some Tuesday but not at 100 percent.

Bielema said that Allen was “still in an evaluation process.”

Backup quarterback Cole Kelley, a redshirt freshman, led the Razorbacks on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives against the Gamecocks, but also threw an interception that was returned 45 yards for South Carolina’s final touchdown.

Bielema indicated there’s no quarterback controversy brewing for the Razorbacks.

“Cole said, ‘If Austin can go, he’s our quarterback,’ ” Bielema said. “I think that’s a great indicator of a guy being in the right frame of mind.”

Regardless of who’s under center, Bielema said the Razorbacks have to get back to their run-first philosophy.

“Offensively, we’ve got to get back to what we know how to do,” Bielema said. “When we’re not running the ball effectively, we don’t have success in any phase, and we’ve got to do that consistently.”

For Alabama, its game against Texas A&M was below average for the offense that had pummeled Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by a combined score of 125 the previous two games. The offensive line missed some assignments in the run game and pass protection, and there were also some missed throws and dropped passes.

Alabama had 355 yards of total offense and averaged 5.3 yards per rush (232 yards on 44 carries), but it never felt like the Crimson Tide imposed their will on the Aggies.

Alabama struggled on third downs, converting 4 of 14 attempts.
Still, the Tide leads the SEC in rushing (301.7 yards per game), led by quarterback Jalen Hurts (517 yards). Alabama has a deep stable of running backs, led by Damien Harris (500 yards, 8.5 per carry) and Bo Scarbrough (294 yards).

Hurts hasn’t had to do a lot in the passing game, but he’s been efficient — 70 of 111 for 870 yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

While everyone on the outside may be overlooking this matchup, Saban wants all of his players and Alabama’s fans to take this contest seriously.

“Arkansas, I think, has got a really, really good team,” Saban said. “I think they’ve got some players that can really make a difference in the game, starting with the quarterback, who certainly played well against us last year — made some fabulous throws and really good plays.

“They’ve got three running backs that have helped them be one of the most effective teams running the ball of anybody that we’ve played to this point.”