Damien Harris and the Crimson Tide look to keep things rolling against the Razorbacks
From time to time, college football unleashes its version of cruel and unusual punishment on Saturdays. When the Arkansas Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2) travel to Tuscaloosa on Oct. 14 for a showdown against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0), the Hogs are in for a very unpleasant visit.
The Razorbacks have the grueling task of back-to-back SEC road games, heading to Alabama fresh off an embarrassing 48-22 loss to South Carolina. Per the Hogs' usual routine, they kept it close in the first half, heading into the locker room down 17-10, but turned the ball over three times in the second half, leading to two pick-sixes and a 73-yard fumble return for a score. Adding insult to injury, beleaguered senior quarterback Austin Allen suffered a shoulder injury, missing the fourth quarter of the SC game. He could be a game-time decision against the Tide.
Alabama has steamrolled through the first six games on the schedule, getting its toughest contest of the season last week in College Station. The Aggies made the final score close in a 27-19 loss. Texas A&M's nine fourth-quarter points provided an opportunity for Tide head coach Nick Saban to get his team’s attention going into the second half of the season, unwelcome news for the Hogs.
Arkansas at Alabama
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 7:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Alabama -28
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Arkansas run the ball?
If the Hogs want to make this SEC West game competitive, they must run the ball — but that is becoming a challenge. Entering the SC game, Arkansas was averaging 205 yards per game on the ground but was held to 106 against the Gamecocks. Alabama is the nation’s best team against the run, only allowing 73 yards per game. Arkansas has three talented tailbacks in David Williams, Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden, but their abilities can shine only if the offensive line can create holes.
2. Quarterback play in the pocket for the Hogs
If Austin Allen is a late scratch against Bama, the offense will be handed over to redshirt freshman Cole Kelley. Against SC, Kelley completed 8-of-13 passes with a touchdown and an interception. The injury to Allen may be a blessing in disguise for the Hogs. Kelley, at 6-7, 268 pounds, is six inches taller than Allen and has a much stronger arm with a quick release. When he's gotten his chances, Kelley has brought a passion and competitive fire with him that have been sacked out of Allen over the past two seasons. One thing Kelley does not have is big-game experience, which will be missed if Allen is sidelined.
3. Will Alabama get up for the game?
Up and down the roster, statistically, and with the home-field advantage, Alabama has the edge everywhere against Arkansas. In addition to having the nation’s best run defense, the Tide are holding teams to 186 yards passing per game. On offense, the rushing attack is also one of the nation’s best, covering 302 yards per game, and the Tide possess a top-10 scoring unit at 43 points per game.
The Hogs are the first of three consecutive home games for Bama, with Tennessee and LSU to follow. Perhaps the one thing that can help Arkansas stay in the game is an unenthusiastic Alabama team getting caught looking ahead.
A great defense can still be vulnerable against a capable quarterback. The unknown of what Austin Allen or Cole Kelley can provide for Arkansas is the glimmer of hope against a swarming Crimson tsunami defense.
Alabama has its own version of a three-headed rushing attack with quarterback Jalen Hurts and running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough. In a 49-30 Tide win last year, Alabama rushed for 264 yards against the Hogs, led by Harris’ 122 yards on 13 carries. Hurts was the back-breaker, rushing just eight times for 20 yards but scoring twice. Florida State could not stop the Tide ground game, nor could A&M. Neither will the Hogs.
The last Arkansas win over Alabama came during the George W. Bush administration in 2006. The drought continues.
Prediction: Alabama 48, Arkansas 17
— 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.