Know the enemy: A contrasting look at Alabama’s game with Arkansas
Tide Illustrated’s Max Wolborsky sat down with HawgBeat editor Mason Choate to discuss Alabama’s No. 2 trip to Arkansas’ No. 20 this weekend.
What did Drew Sanders do for this Arkansas defense after moving from Alabama?
“Drew Sanders provided a spark for the Razorback defense in a number of ways.
“First of all, he’s the most athletic guy the Hogs have had as a linebacker in a long time. He’s able to do a lot more than just rack up tackles. He can run back, get to quarterback quickly and smash guys that most linebackers can’t.
“Second, the threat he poses as a passing thrower has allowed the rest of the defense to find the quarterback. Opponents are going to grab him, and it’s allowed other guys to get to the quarterback- back, which is a big reason Arkansas leads the nation with 20 sacks.”
The Razorbacks are ranked 126th out of 131 teams in pass defense. How do you see them slowing down Bryce Young and the Alabama Air Attack?
“So far the only way the Hogs have slowed their opponents in the air is through the pass rush. The secondary proved they can’t cover well, which led Barry Odom’s group to make a blitz at a much higher pace than last season. .
“Recovering the Myles Slusher nickel against Texas A&M was huge, and he was rated the Razorbacks’ top defenseman against the Aggies, according to Pro Football Focus. The problem is, he can’t do it all on his own.
“The secondary is going to have to keep the Crimson Tide position players in front of them because they’ve been burned a lot. Young is by far the best quarterback they’ll see at this point, so those issues need to be addressed at the top.”
What does last week’s loss to A&M do to Arkansas? How do they respond?
“When Sam Pittman is the head coach, Arkansas is not going to take a loss lightly. It was clear after the A&M game that the players were upset, but they were also hungry to come back. Pretty much every answers they gave had to do with getting ready for Alabama.
“Arkansas culture is not what most SEC fans are used to. It has changed a lot. The Razorbacks are now a winning program.”
Can QB KJ Jefferson replicate his success from last season against Alabama without Treylon Burks?
“Treylon Burks was arguably the best receiver in Razorback football history. It’s impossible to replicate what he was able to do last season.
“Arkansas has won games slashing opponents on the ground this season. Jefferson has been good in the air, but he clearly doesn’t have a safety blanket like Burks.
“I don’t see him doing what he did last season with one guy, but he has more reliable receivers than he did last year. Burks was really the only guy Jefferson trusted. This season he has a solid group.”
Who are some of the top offensive playmakers this season on Arkansas’ roster?
“Things definitely start with KJ Jefferson at quarterback. He’s a talented runner and has a high football IQ. He also throws one of the best deep balls in the SEC.
“Raheim “Rocket” Sanders leads the SEC in rushing yards, and he looked great going into his second campaign. He’s a great reception in addition to being able to burst a rush for 40+ yards at any time. Hogs will turn back, however, as AJ Green, Dominique Johnson and Rashod Dubinion are expected to see touches.
“Oklahoma transfer Jadon Haselwood is the most talented receiver on the team, but he hasn’t had his game-breaking game yet. Toledo transfer Matt Landers is as quick as anyone in the team and it’s a big game ahead.” Warren Thompson and Ketron Jackson Jr. are two guys who can beat defenders over the top.
“Trey Knox is the starting tight end and he’s built like a prototypical NFL tight end. He’s had his fair share of mistakes, but the ceiling is high and he’s very athletic.”
What do you think Sam Pittman did so well to change Arkansas’ football program?
“As simple as that sounds, I think he got players to buy Arkansas football. Before he got here, the Hogs were the laughing stock not just of the SEC, but nationwide.
“Pittman made these players believe that the Razorbacks can go back to where they were in the past. He mentioned that he used the success they had in the early 2010s with Bobby Petrino when recruiting. He said built the belief that the Hogs can compete with anyone.
“Besides just changing the culture, he’s being recruited at a high level. Additions to the transfer portal this offseason have paid off – look no further than former Alabama linebacker Drew Sanders.
“Pittman is cooking up something special in Fayetteville and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
What can Razorbacks do to slow down Tide pass rushers?
“The Hogs have a veteran offensive line and they fired four starters from last season’s field that helped block for the Power Five’s top running team.
“I think slowing down Alabama passers is less on the offensive line and more on receivers opening up quickly. There’s not much you can do to block a guy like Will Anderson, so pass catchers have to give Jefferson an option as soon as possible.
“It’s easy to say they need to focus on a guy like Anderson, but they just need to mix up their wards and be on the same page as Jefferson.
Arkansas allows almost 15 yards per pass. What can the Razorbacks do to limit Alabama’s big plays?
“Good question. I really don’t know what else they can do but hope high school gets better. They tried to send home, and it didn’t work. If Max Johnson can get the ball back, Young surely can.
“As I mentioned earlier, keeping guys up front will help, rather than allowing them to fall behind. bad tackle a few times now.
Can Arkansas beat Alabama this weekend if they are ___?
“Forcing turnovers in defense and playing error-free football in attack. There really is no other way, in my opinion.
“When the Razorback defense forces turnovers and Jefferson and the offense don’t give up, this is a tough team to beat. If Jefferson doesn’t fumble the ball trying to reach the goal line against Texas A&M, the Hogs will probably win this game.
“If someone in the high school can break a ball and force Young to make a mistake, the Hogs have a shot. Pittman also mentioned that if they can improve their tackling, a ball will eventually come out at some point. given.
“Offensively they will have to dig deeper into the playbook. There have been too many run-run-pass commands stalling. They have a lot of firepower and weapons so they have to use it and not be basic as they have been.
Fayetteville will be in a red for the game. What do you think of this idea for two teams wearing red?
“I guess it’s a cool thing for the fans to do. Alabama should wear white, so it makes sense not to wear whiteouts.
“The Razorback faithful were going to show up in force anyway, but that’s just another thing to get people excited.
“But let’s be real, the stands are usually filled with red anyway, so I don’t know how different it will be to any other game.”