Game of the Week: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Arkansas
We are approaching the halfway point in the college football season, and this is where things start to get hectic. Now is the time where we begin to get a glimpse of which teams are true playoff contenders and which teams are more likely to have a midseason meltdown.
Through the first few weeks of the season, the Alabama Crimson Tide appear to be one of those championship caliber teams. The Tide have had a strong start posting a 5-0 record and maintaining their preseason No.1 ranking throughout. They will now dive into the meat of their schedule beginning this week on the road in an SEC West showdown against the No.16 Arkansas Razorbacks. Bret Bielema’s team has also been impressive, starting the season off with a 4-1 record including a big win on the road against TCU in week 2. Alabama is a two-touchdown favorite, but both teams match up surprisingly well against each other, and Arkansas has the ability to make this one a much better game than the spread suggests.
Alabama is undoubtedly the most talented team in the nation and has consistently been a top team in the conference for years. The Tide enter week 6 with the ninth-ranked scoring defense in the nation, and is loaded with NFL talent all over the field. Defensive end Jonathan Allen is a devastating pass rusher who possesses a rare combination of power and quickness, recording four sacks on the season. Linebackers Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Reuben Foster complement each other as well as any unit in college football and anchor a run defense that ranks sixth among FBS teams. The front seven for Alabama has been dominant against the run, forcing opponents to beat them through the air. However, the secondary has been equally illustrious, giving up only 188 yards per game through the air.
Combine an overbearing Tide defense with one of the most potent offenses Nick Saban has had in years. Saban offenses have always been dangerous on the ground, and this year is no exception. Alabama has totaled 12 rushing touchdowns this season, and six different players have scored for them. Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs share the bulk of the carries and average an impressive 8.5 and 7.4 yards per carry respectively. The difference this year has been the addition of Jalen Hurts, who is just the second true freshman starting quarterback in program history. Hurts has been the perfect quarterback for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s up-tempo offense. He’s completing 62% of his passes and has scored ten total touchdowns to just one interception thus far. An outstanding receiving corps that includes Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and OJ Howard has made Hurts’ job much easier. The talent level is distinct on both sides of the ball for the Tide. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
Arkansas, on the other hand, is not a team that is going to overwhelm anyone with talent, but what one can expect from the Razorbacks is a well-coached, efficient team on both sides of the ball. The Hogs also have a fantastic defensive line led by NFL prospects Deatrich Wise Jr. and Jeremiah Ledbetter. It will be imperative for this unit to put pressure on the young quarterback for Alabama but an even more vital key will be to prevent the Alabama running backs from getting to the second and third levels. Dre Greenlaw and Brooks Ellis are both solid linebackers but will need some help thwarting the Tide rushing attack if Arkansas is going to pull off the upset. The Hogs secondary will be in for a major test in attempting to contain the talented receiving corps for Alabama. The Hogs must also limit big plays in the passing game to keep this one close.
The Razorback offense is a physical one and has one of the few offensive lines in college football that could frustrate the Alabama defensive front. Austin Allen has been the most prolific passer in the SEC thus far tossing 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions along with a 167.7 passer rating. As good as he’s been, the Hogs will need a big game from running back Rawleigh Williams III so the Alabama defense can’t just sit on the pass. The Hogs also have multiple threats to their advantage in the receiving corps. Drew Morgan leads the team with 301 yards while Keon Hatcher, Jared Cornelius, and Jeremy Sprinkle have all caught at least three touchdown passes. This group must continue to make plays on Saturday in order to take some of the pressure off of Allen against a tough Tide secondary.
This is quite an intriguing matchup, as Arkansas and head coach Bret Bielema will be looking for a signature win to prove that they are among the SEC elite. The Tide have not played up to their full potential yet but expect Nick Saban to have his squad ready for a dogfight. Arkansas will keep this one close, but Alabama’s overall talent and experience in big games will eventually be too much for the Hogs.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Arkansas 24
Will Desautelle is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.