1. Well-Rounded Offense
Alabama’s offense has typically been built around a bruising ground game, which is led by NFL caliber running backs and offensive linemen.
The Crimson Tide certainly has enjoyed success on the ground once again this season, averaging 188.3 rushing yards a game. But Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash said Alabama’s ability to hurt opponents through the air has made them even difficult for opponents to stop this season.
“They can run it, they can throw it,” Ash said. “They really haven’t had a lot of trouble doing either one.”
Arkansas’ offense will face a balanced opponent when the teams meet in Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night. The Crimson Tide is averaging 448.5 yards a game this season, including 260.2 through the air.
Ash said senior quarterback AJ McCarron has been a big reason for Alabama’s passing success. The veteran is completing 68.9 percent of his passes for 1,407 yards with 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in six games.
“The thing I have been impressed with is he takes care of the football,” Ash said. “He doesn’t make bad decisions. He doesn’t put the ball in jeopardy. You look at the interceptions — I think he has thrown three interceptions this season — which is outstanding for the number of games that they have had.
“But I have been really impressed with the command of the offense that he has and the way he protects the ball and the decisions that he makes.”
McCarron has a talented group of receivers as well. Christion Jones and DeAndrew White lead the way, combining for 44 catches for 547 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The group faces an Arkansas secondary that has struggled to stop opponents in four straight losses. The Razorbacks have allowed an average of 276.8 passing yards and 12 passing touchdowns in the losses.
So Arkansas cornerback Carroll Washington must be prepared for a balanced Crimson Tide offense that can hurt the Hogs with play-action passes Saturday.
“Alabama likes run, run, run then play action, deep ball, something like that,” said Washington, who earned his first start against South Carolina. “They have some good receivers at Alabama and we have to step to the challenge.”
2. Healthy Allen
Arkansas quarterback Bandon Allen has missed practice time every week since suffering his sprained shoulder last month. But coach Bret Bielema said on his weekly radio show Allen has been completely healthy this week.
“This is the first time since the injury that he’s practiced the entire week without any issues,” Bielema said. “So a really big week for us this week to get through that. And if you’ve got a quarterback that’s not throwing during the course of the week and he just shows up, that affects timing, that affects rhythm, that affects … There’s a reason every team in college football and the NFL, your No. 1 wide receivers work with your No. 1 quarterback every day to get those things worked out.”
Allen said Tuesday he is 100 percent after being slowed by the shoulder injury for several weeks. Bielema is hoping it shows against the Crimson Tide.
“One of the advantages we have is Brandon does throw the deep ball when he’s healthy very, very well and he’s definitely back to being healthy,” Bielema said.
3. Saban Wants Improvement
Alabama’s defense has been impressive the past four weeks, allowing just 16 points.
The offense has been difficult for opponents to stop, too, averaging 448.5 yards.
But Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban isn’t satisfied.
“We haven’t gotten a lot of turnovers defensively which we certainly need to improve on,” Saban said during the SEC Teleconference on Saturday. “And we obviously are not pleased with the fact that we turned the ball over a couple of times in our last game which has been a little bit uncharacteristic of our backs, but certainly something we need to improve on and not let it become something that happens on any kind of consistent basis in the future.”
Alabama is tied for sixth in the SEC in turnover margin (plus-one). The Crimson Tide has forced seven turnovers, which is tied with Vanderbilt and Kentucky for the second-lowest total in the conference behind Georgia (five). Its six turnovers, however, is tied with Missouri, Mississippi State and Kentucky for the fewest.
4. Extra Points
Arkansas had seven players on Phil Steele’s midseason All-SEC team. Center Travis Swanson, defensive end Chris Smith and kicker Zach Hocker earned first-team recognition from Steele. Tight end Hunter Henry and defensive end Trey Flowers were named to the second team, while running back Alex Collins and linebacker Jarrett Lake earned third-team recognition. … Bielema said on his radio show offensive tackle Grady Ollison will be more involved in the game plan this week. Ollison starter the first five games of the season, but did not play against Florida and South Carolina. … Don’t expect Arkansas’ offensive players to wear long sleeves when cold weather arrives. Bielema said he was “furious” when he saw it before Wednesday’s practice and let his players know that will change. “There will not be a player on offense that’s going to carry the ball that will have sleeves on because it naturally sets you up for football security (issues).”