By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Sept. 25, 2011
Finding the words to describe how Alabama dismantled Arkansas on Saturday demands locating a starting place – not to mention not getting caught up in dumbstruck awe over just how good this Alabama team might be.
Despite the loss of QB Ryan Mallett, this was supposed to be the best Arkansas team ever to play in the SEC. Alabama took it apart like a butcher turning a hog into pulled pork.
There was no aspect of the game Alabama didn’t dominate, even special teams play, which was supposed to be a Razorback strength. Time and again, Alabama made more plays, using players that were clearly more talented, better coached and better prepared.
This is not said to take anything away from Bob Petrino, who has delivered to the Hog faithful a very well-coached team with dangerous weapons that can beat any team it plays on any given day. Except maybe Alabama.
If there has been one criticism of Petrino, it’s been his recruiting, which (according to the rankings of recruiting experts) has been mediocre at best. On one hand, Arkansas’ subsequent success is a testament to Petrino’s coaching acumen. He may be the best offensive mind as a head coach this conference has seen since Steve Spurrier, arguably better than Florida’s Urban Meyer was, if for no other reason than the fact Petrino is delivering better results with fewer playmakers.
But on the other hand, it was downright painful, perhaps even pitiable, to watch reserve DT Zach Stadther try to play defensive end in the absence of Tenarius Wright. The lack of depth on defense – and the continuing problem of a subpar-across-the-board secondary – was targeted by Alabama in every way, and every time, Arkansas folded under the weight of the Crimson Tide’s assault.
To focus on Arkansas, however, takes the light away from Alabama, which is where it belongs. This is arguably the hardest-hitting defense Alabama has fielded since the days of Ken Donahue and Paul Bryant. It is also, arguably, the most sudden and violent defense yet put to track by Nick Saban and Kirby Smart while at Alabama. And no disrespect intended toward Bill Oliver, but this Alabama secondary plays with a precision and perfection of technique – not to mention abject violence – never before seen in Tuscaloosa.
The fact Alabama has been playing football for a hundred-plus years, winning 13 national championships along the way, and these things still be true, is almost scary. This is the age of parity, we are constantly told. Well, there’s nothing equal about this Alabama defense. It doesn’t have an equal.
Oh, but it has a ton of admirers and copycats, the most dangerous of those residing in Saban’s former home of Baton Rouge, La. Time will tell how each team’s offense attacks the impenetrable force of defense when LSU visits Tuscaloosa in November.
Alabama didn’t play flawless football against Arkansas, but you could see flawless from where Alabama was standing. The loss, even if it’s temporary, of LB C.J. Mosley will be difficult to overcome. But it’s a comfort that Alabama, unlike Arkansas, can replace Mosley with another prototype linebacker from the Nick Saban Star-Making Machine, rather than have to take a third-team, slow defensive tackle and ask him to do something for which his body was never intended.
If you want to talk about the most noticeable, prominent takeaway from this game, look first to the silence. That would be the silent, awestruck head-shaking that nearly every Alabama fan engaged in at some point in this game. Whether it was over Marquis Maze’s one-for-the-ages punt return, the hit after hit delivered to Razorback QB Tyler Wilson by Alabama’s collection of defensive demons, or the ease in which Alabama executed big play after big play, there was never a moment Saturday when a large percentage of the patrons was not watching the game through a slackjawed visage. If there be monsters in college football, Alabama is certainly the hairiest, bulkiest, most savage of them all – and Arkansas was left to be gored on crimson horns.
Petrino, once again, finds himself at the foot of the Alabama program, trying to gather his dismembered armor and hoping his head doesn’t go rolling off the edge of the Bama blade. There is plenty left for Arkansas to play for, and if Alabama were to be upset next week at Florida and then lose later in the year to LSU, Arkansas would be in line for Atlanta despite this slaughter.
But it’s hard to imagine Alabama going down that particular path. Not without a slew of injuries or some unforeseen calamity. What this team looks like is a champion.