The Arkansas Razorbacks haven’t received much good luck this season, but they certainly got some good fortune relative to their upcoming meeting with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
By Matt Zemek
They won’t have to face Tua Tagovailoa, who got injured against Tennessee this past weekend and won’t be able to play. As Alabama tries to get healthy for LSU on November 9, the Crimson Tide aren’t in a position to play their best football or achieve their best results. What can Arkansas do to keep this game close and create a more interesting game against Alabama than anyone previously thought possible?
1 – Load up the box
The Alabama game plan for Saturday figures to involve a lot more running plays than we have seen from the Crimson Tide in previous weeks. Not having Tua on the field should mean far fewer touches for Alabama’s receivers, which are the best and strongest position group on the whole Crimson Tide roster. Arkansas has to dare Alabama quarterback Mac Jones to beat the Hogs with downfield passes. Taking away the run and the short pass is what Arkansas has to try to achieve. The Razorbacks might not actually achieve what they want, but they must at least force Alabama to throw vertically with a quarterback who has not yet proved he can do that against SEC competition. Arkansas needs to be aggressive with its defense and let the chips fall where they may.
2 – Fourth down fortitude
Whereas Alabama might be in a position where it has to be more cautious on fourth down, due to Mac Jones’s lack of substantial experience, Arkansas should be just the opposite. If Arkansas wants to win this game and not merely keep it close, the Hogs and Chad Morris have to understand that while Alabama’s offense is obviously limited, the Crimson Tide will still prevail if they win time of possession and can wear down Arkansas in the third and fourth quarters.
Arkansas has to possess the ball more than Bama to have a realistic chance of winning. This means the Razorbacks need to be both aggressive and successful on manageable fourth downs. No, Arkansas shouldn’t go for it on fourth and three from its own 20-yard line in the first quarter. That would risk gifting Bama three or seven points.
However, fourth and one or two yards from midfield or Bama territory are the kinds of situations in which Arkansas has to be aggressive and not timid. If the Hogs can convert enough of those kinds of fourth downs, Arkansas can keep the ball from Alabama, which will put more pressure on Mac Jones and simultaneously deprive him of the rhythm he wants to develop in this game. Fourth down is a big pressure point for Arkansas on Saturday.
3 – Corners on an island
Alabama’s best offensive play might simply be, “Mac Jones, throw the ball into the air, and allow your elite receivers to catch it.” Arkansas’ corners have to hold up well in man coverage and win contested catches in the air. If Arkansas can’t do this, it won’t be able to win.