Five predictions for top-ranked Alabama in its matchup with Arkansas Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Raekwon Davis will record his first sack of the season
Davis’ bagel in the sack column through five games has become a popular topic. While it’s not the statistical start most expected from the junior, it’s not like he has been nonexistent in passing situations.
They don’t get the same amount of love as sacks, but Davis’ team-leading five quarterback hurries tell us that he’s often in the neighborhood even if he’s yet to get home. And while assists are credited when two defenders combine to bring down a ball carrier, perhaps they should be handed out to players who attract double teams that result in one-on-one opportunities for others.
Not to devalue what we’ve seen from Quinnen Williams and Isaiah Buggs because they, too, have attracted the attention of more than one blocker on occasion (and beaten doubles to make plays). It’s just that when a guy like Davis lines up on the nose of the center — like Davis often does in Alabama’s three-man dime rabbits front — he’s probably going to demand help from either one of the guards. My third-grade level math aptitude tells me the numbers favor those around Davis when that happens.
To be sure, Davis has more than done his part for a pass rush that, in dropping opposing quarterbacks 18 times in five games, is eight sacks ahead of its pace from year ago. That stat speaks to the fact that the Crimson Tide pass rush is more than a one-man show. Having a 6-foot-7, 316-pounder attention getter on the inside, though, sure doesn’t hurt.
Couple of other numbers working in Davis, who had 1.5 sacks in last year’s win over Arkansas, and UA’s favor: Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey was sacked five times by Texas A&M a week ago and Alabama has racked up 19 sacks in its last four meetings with the Hogs.
Damien Harris will average fewer than 11 yards per carry against the Razorbacks
A year ago, I predicted Harris wouldn’t average 10.4 yards per carry — his average per tote in SEC play at the time — against Arkansas.
Apparently, I didn’t give proper consideration to his performance against the Razorbacks in 2016, when he carried 13 times for 122 yards (9.4 yards per carry). That was one thought, anyway, after Harris needed only nine carries to go for 125 yards (13.9 yards per carry) in Tuscaloosa a season ago.
To recap: In his last two tangos with the Hogs, Harris has averaged 11.3 yards per carry. So far this season, he’s sitting at 6.9, which is a tad above the 6.7 he averaged in his first three seasons in the program. As for the Arkansas defense, in games against Auburn and Texas A&M, a unit spearheaded by linebackers De’Jon Harris and Dre Greenlaw kept the Tigers and Aggies to a respectable yards per carry average of 3.3.
If Alabama’s Harris exceeds my expectation again, it will likely have to do with maximum efficiency. Over the last two seasons, he hasn’t needed a lot of carries to bring back a lot in return. Harris has been a part of an Alabama offensive blitzkrieg that ends games early, offering plenty of mop up time carries to others late. Such is life for a starter at UA these days, I guess.
Alabama will not miss a kick in the game
I know, right? Before asking about the drug testing policies here at Bama On Line dot com, hear me out for a second.
The theory: After missing two chip shots in a blowout of Louisiana-Lafayette last week, going on the road will prove to be exactly what Joseph Bulovas needs (even if Reynolds Razorback Stadium has served as a house of kicking horrors for Alabama in the past). Well, that and the fact that I’m thinking Alabama will mostly kick extra points. On those, Bulovas is a perfect 27 of 27.
I’m also thinking one (or more) of those PATs might come on the heels of a touchdown in the kicking game. When it comes to returns, Arkansas coverage units have been a nightmare, surrendering kickoff returns for touchdowns in each of its last two games and one unforgettable fake out of a punt return for a score to North Texas.
The Razorbacks enter the game ranked 12th in the SEC in opponents punt returns (15.5 yards allowed per return) and 13th in opponents kickoff returns (30.1 yards allowed per return). Meanwhile, Alabama’s return duo of Josh Jacobs and Jaylen Waddle have each returned a kickoff and punt for score, respectively.
Somewhere between the PATs this week, Bulovas will mix in a field goal make. For one week anyway, the uprights will get a day off.
For the 10th time in its last 11 games against Alabama, Arkansas will not rush for 100 yards
One of the more amazing stats from the Crimson Tide’s decade-plus of dominance in this series is that since 2008 is that it has held the Razorbacks to just one, 100-yard rushing performance. Have to go back to 2013, Bret Bielema ‘s first year at the helm in Fayetteville, to find the last time Arkansas eclipsed the century mark on the ground.
In the four meetings that followed that one — a repeat of the 2012 52-0 shellacking that preceded it — the Hogs rushed for 89, 44, 73 and 27 yards. If that doesn’t sum up Bielema’s shortcomings at Arkansas, I don’t know what will.
Through five games under Chad Morris, the Razorbacks rank last in the SEC in rushing at 141.8 yards per game. Unhelpful to that total are the 14 times Arkansas quarterbacks have been sacked this season.
In three games against Power 5 opponents, Alabama has allowed 87 rushing yards per game, nearly 100 fewer than it allowed to a pair of Sun Belt foes. This call might come down to the Crimson Tide’s 2s on defense, a group that gave up more than half of Louisiana-Lafayette’s 200 rushing yards in two possessions last week.
Alabama will win the game by a score of 45-13
It shouldn’t take long Saturday to find out exactly how long this game will be competitive. For both teams — and for very different reasons — the first quarter has gone a long way in telling the tale.
Alabama has come out of the blocks like Usain Bolt in his prime, blowing past five opponents in the opening quarter by a combined score of 103-14. Throw in the second quarter tally of 94-6 and UA’s average halftime lead this season has been 39-4.
As for Arkansas, as recent as last week, when Texas A&M jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Razorbacks, the first quarter hasn’t been a friend to Morris’ team. Opponents have jumped the Hogs coming out of the locker room to the tune of 44-17.
Speaking of starts, this is how O-fertober will get underway for an Alabama team that, under the guidance of Nick Saban, has yet to taste defeat to any of its three opponents in the month. Potential trap game this week? With Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee a combined 0-24 in games against Saban-coached Alabama squads, it’s shaping up more like a trap month.
If Saban thinks empty seats in blowout wins are a problem, he’s set to face a couple of first-year coaches in the month who would love to trade places with him. To be sure, #alabamaproblems these days aren’t like any others in college football.
Alabama-Arkansas Preview Podcast: