Top-ranked Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) continues its march toward Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game with a road trip to Arkansas (1-4, 0-2). The pairing may not attract the average college football fan in what appears to be a lopsided matchup on paper, but it should serve as a teaching tool for the Crimson Tide as they develop depth for the heart of conference action, and as a measuring stick for the Razorbacks, who are seeking their first win since Week 1.
Alabama has not played a team near its talent level yet, and this squad has proved its superiority on a weekly basis, with the closest margin of victory being a 22-point home win over Texas A&M. The offense is ranked No. 5 overall in the FBS, averaging 553 yards per game, and a stifling defense is holding teams to 318 total yards per game.
The Hogs have an opportunity to provide some resistance against the Crimson Tide’s offense for a while with a tough defense that is allowing 362 total yards per game. But help is needed from an inconsistent offense that looked ordinary at best against Texas A&M last week. Arkansas could only muster 55 yards on the ground against the Aggies but did show some pop in the passing game under first-year starter Ty Storey with 193 yards through the air.
Alabama at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -35
Three Things to Watch
1. Arkansas’ ground game
The Hogs missed starting tailback Devwah Whaley (concussion) last week against the Aggies, turning to junior college transfer Rakeem Boyd as the lead back. Hogs offensive coordinator Joe Craddock ignored Boyd’s success running the ball (10 carries for 47 yards), opting for designed quarterback runs with Ty Storey that went nowhere.
If there is a slight weakness to Bama’s defense, the run game might qualify. The Tide are allowing 127 yards per game on the ground, No. 43 in the nation. Can Arkansas take advantage?
2. Alabama in the Hogs' backfield
The Crimson Tide have talent across the board on defense, allowing defensive coordinators Pete Golding and Tosh Lupoi to turn key players loose to get a sack or stop a running back in the backfield. Alabama is getting it done thanks in large part to outside linebacker Christian Miller and end Isaiah Buggs. Buggs leads the team with 5.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss, while Miller is close behind with 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss.
The Hogs have trouble holding defenders off the quarterback on passing downs. For the season, Arkansas has already allowed 14 sacks, with the Aggies picking up five of those on Storey a week ago.
3. Scoring the ball
An area where Arkansas can ill afford to lose ground against Alabama is on the scoreboard. Statistically, the Hogs are one of the worst teams in the nation at finding the end zone, averaging 24 points per game, which places them 102nd in the country. Alabama has no such trouble, leading the nation in scoring with 54 points per game. The Bama offense can burn teams with a two-headed monster out of the backfield in Najee Harris and Damien Harris or safely put the ball in the hands of starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to spread teams vertically.
Tagovailoa is fitting into the Tide’s offense like it was tailor-made for him. He's completing 75 percent of his passes while throwing 14 touchdown passes without an interception. The Hogs have just three interceptions on the year, with linebacker Dre Greenlaw getting two of those against A&M.
Chad Morris is not having the start to his tenure at Arkansas that he had hoped. Non-conference losses to Colorado State and North Texas hurt, and back-to-back conference losses to Auburn (34-3) and Texas A&M (24-17) did not help, either. The Hogs showed improvement against the Aggies, but facing a giant like Alabama may not reflect gains in terms of the final score.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s mastery over the Hogs is not in question. The Tide have rolled the Hogs 11 consecutive times; make it 12 on Saturday.
Prediction: Alabama 54, Arkansas 10
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.