By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Sept. 15, 2012
In lopsided games like this one, there really isn’t much to be said about the technical aspects of football.
Arkansas made so many errors on its way to getting hammered 52-0 by Alabama that the list of Division-IA teams the Razorbacks could have beaten Saturday might go 10 or 12 deep, at best.
Alabama didn’t do anything special; the Tide’s offense hadn’t put up big numbers until the backups were on the field in the fourth quarter. Alabama simply waited on Arkansas to make mistake after mistake, and Alabama capitalized on each one.
Indeed, the larger story here is about Arkansas, not Alabama. Arkansas could have won 9 or 10 games in 2012, maybe more. Now, getting bowl-eligible is no longer assured. When the Big East’s Rutgers comes to town in seven days, the Scarlet Knights might very well be favored. Arkansas should be expected to beat Kentucky, Tulsa and Ole Miss, but the rest? Up in the air at this point.
Alabama fans know what Arkansas is experiencing, because Alabama has been there before – the dreaded 2003 season, when Mike Price was fired in May following a scandal not unlike the one Bobby Petrino subjected his family and team to over this past offseason. Mike Shula came in, kept a few assistant coaches, tried to change the offensive identity of the team and ended up presiding over a 4-9 horror show.
Alabama committed to taking away the Arkansas running game, and did so. Arkansas didn’t crack the 100-yard rushing mark on the day, and got the bulk of its offense after Alabama had already emptied the bench. Arkansas rushed for only 85 yards and threw for just 86. That’s not the type of balance the Hogs were looking for.
For the Crimson Tide, the chance to play this many people on the road in an SEC game is an advantage that can’t be overstated. Up next is a game the Tide should win comfortably, Florida Atlantic. Here’s the Arkansas Five-Point Breakdown:
- Pass protection looked much improved. After a couple of hiccups on the opening one or two possessions, Alabama’s offensive line put the Arkansas defensive line on lockdown. Tide coaches seem to have corrected D.J. Fluker’s “tell,” as referred to by Western Kentucky players, over whether Alabama would run or pass based on Fluker’s pre-snap alignment. Just as impressive was how Cyrus Kouandjio handled weakside pressure. One has to temper enthusiasm a bit in light of how bad Arkansas’ defense truly is, but neither Alonzo Highsmith nor Tank Wright had any kind of impact in this game.
- The absence of a fullback made no discernible difference. This might not be the case as Alabama continues against tougher teams on its schedule, but the Crimson Tide handled Jalston Fowler’s absence with heavier doses of H-back Kelly Johnson and three-wide sets. Harrison Jones also got work in short-yardage situations, and then there was the reappearance of the “Cody package,” the goal-line set made famous by Terrance Cody playing fullback, this time with NT Jesse Williams as the star. So far, so good.
- Power rushing attack got better results, but … Alabama wasn’t a statistical giant in this game as much as it was the beneficiary of five turnovers from Arkansas. As such, the rushing offense wasn’t asked to do much. Eddie Lacy had three touchdowns, but carried for only 55 yards on 12 carries. T.J. Yeldon added 57 yards on 13 carries. That’s just 112 yards from the top two running backs on the team; the rest of Alabama’s 235 yards on the ground came from reserves when the game had already been decided. The best piece of news from observing the running game was Eddie Lacy being aggressive again. After two games where Lacy mostly tiptoed (at least compared to his past body of work) thanks to lingering effects from a foot injury, Lacy seemed to let it rip a bit against Arkansas. This is particularly important in light of Fowler’s injury, as the other Tide backs (Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, Dee Hart) aren’t typical power backs. Either Yeldon or Drake could become one, but both would need to pack on a few pounds first.
- Special teams continue to impress. Other than a poor decision on punt returner Christion Jones’ part that nearly gave Arkansas the ball deep in Alabama territory, Alabama again put down a solid day on special teams. Cade Foster had only one kickoff not go for a touchback, and the Tide forced a fumble on that one that Foster himself recovered. Going 1-for-2 on 50-yard field goal attempts is about the average for a good long kicker in college football; the fact that Foster did it in a gale was even more impressive. Special teams have consistently been average at best during Nick Saban’s tenure at Alabama, so for this area to suddenly become a strong point is an unexpected gift.
- Questions linger at backup quarterback, secondary. Phillip Ely entered the game before Blake Sims today, and then the two alternated snaps for awhile. Whether this is a long-term solution or not is unclear. What is clear is that Sims, who originally came to Alabama as a quarterback before spending the 2011 season at running back, has improved his throwing and his reads considerably since signing with the Crimson Tide. Neither is to the level of A.J. McCarron yet, but Alabama has been able to get at least one backup quarterback work in all three games so far and with each snap, Ely and Sims look more comfortable. As for the secondary, Alabama still misses Mark Barron a ton, and there continues to be a merry-go-round at free safety with Nick Perry, Vinnie Sunseri and Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. Alabama was able to bait Arkansas’ inexperienced quarterbacks into making several critical errors, but the Crimson Tide is still looking for that hammer in the secondary. Of further concern is that Alabama is still trying to develop a third cornerback. Because the Tide uses a safety (Sunseri) at the Star position this year rather than a third cornerback (DeQuan Menzie, in 2011), there hasn’t been a need for a third corner, but an injury to either Milliner or Deion Belue would be difficult to overcome this year.
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