Alabama Football 3 Keys: Arkansas

Alabama football Three-keys

The Alabama Crimson Tide are favored by 20 points over the Arkansas Razorbacks, but it sure doesn’t seem as though that level of respect is warranted for Nick Saban’s team.

By Matt Zemek

Sure, Alabama is entirely capable of delivering a blowout here, but should one expect a romp? Not based on the way the Crimson Tide have played over the past month. This is not a typical Nick Saban team. Instead of gathering momentum for the home stretch and rounding into form near Thanksgiving, Alabama has faltered and looked mortal. The Tide were extremely lucky to not lose against LSU on a night when they improbably rushed for just six yards. Alabama was fast asleep for the first 10 minutes of the New Mexico State game this past weekend. Alabama was sloppy and uneven against Tennessee in late October. Then came a week of rest in which many people thought this team’s problems would be fixed and its weaknesses reduced in severity.

That hasn’t happened.

The Arkansas game would be a good time for this team to snap back into focus, with the Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium just around the bend.

1 – Win in the trenches

We don’t have to explain this one, do we? Alabama has to be able to lean on an opposing defensive line and win the physical battle at the line of scrimmage. Let’s be honest: If Alabama can’t win in the trenches against Arkansas, what chance does it have of winning that same confrontation against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game? Georgia has taken over the SEC and college football this year by being stronger than everyone else. In a year when the sexy, breakout Heisman Trophy favorite has simply not emerged, and in which star power is lacking across the sport, Georgia’s “manball” approach under Kirby Smart has filled the void and made the Dawgs the clear No. 1 team. UGA’s success derives from its physical superiority. It’s irrelevant who the quarterback is. Stetson Bennett can lead that team to the national title because Georgia’s physical prowess is so much better than everyone else’s.

Alabama, if it wants to beat Georgia and make the playoff, needs a good lead-in. It can’t play sloppy, weak games these next two Saturdays and then expect to flip the light switch against the Dawgs. Nope. That will not get it done. The Tide need to flex their muscles now and enter the Georgia game with renewed confidence. They can’t wish and hope. They need to establish a new identity this week versus Arkansas.

2 – Win fourth down

This will be a fascinating part of Saturday’s game. If we assume that Alabama needs to transform its identity before the SEC Championship Game (we say this fully realizing that Bama has to beat Arkansas and Auburn to get to Atlanta), part of this means being aggressive on fourth down and not being afraid to take risks. If Bama is truly “Bama,” the Tide will prove they can handle fourth-down cauldrons of pressure. Yet, given how well Alabama’s defense is playing and how shaky the offense has been, one could very reasonably say that the Tide need to entrust this game to their defense against a struggling Arkansas offense. Should Alabama be conservative? There’s an argument to be made for that… but beating Georgia won’t be done by being conservative. Alabama needs to use this game and the Iron Bowl as occasions in which the Tide become champions on fourth down. Nick Saban needs to challenge his players and elicit growth from them before Atlanta on Dec. 4. Winning on fourth down is part of that.

3 – Make Arkansas earn it

If Arkansas’ struggling offense has to go 80 yards in 13 plays, forget it. The Hogs have lost steam on offense this season and do not match up well with Heisman contender Will Anderson and the rest of the Alabama defense. As long as Arkansas doesn’t get any gifts – penalties on third downs to keep drives alive, or turnovers which create short fields – Alabama should be fine in this game.

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