It's A New Season As Tide Meets Hogs

Does Alabama have a weak link? The Crimson Tide is ranked first in the nation, but Bama has a big hurdle this week when Alabama goes to Fayetteville to face number 10 Arkansas.

"I think our team will find that you really are only as strong as your weakest link, and I think everyone has got to fight a better fight against better competition," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Monday. "I think that's the challenge for everyone in terms of doing their job. That quote about you are only as strong as your weakest link is usually talking about teams, but really you can say that about yourself.

"You're only as strong as your weakest link so if you have a weakness you need to work on it, improve, get better at it, so you have a chance to get better. That should be everybody's challenge here. On the road it is going to be a real critical test for our ability to overcome adversity and stay focused on the task at hand against a really good football team."?

Alabama will take on Arkansas in Fayetteville at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday. CBS will televise the game. Both teams are 3-0. The Razorbacks are coming off a big win over Georgia in Athens.

"This is sort of a new season, when you start playing in the SEC," Saban said. "This is a very good football team. Coach Bobby Petrino has done a very good job there and their quarterback (Ryan Mallett) is obviously one of the leaders in the nation in passing and their defense is in the top 10 in a lot of different categories. They have a really good punt returner. They also have a really good punter and there are a lot of players on this team that are extremely effective. I think they have three receivers in the Top 10 in the conference in terms of receiving yards per game, so they have some players that can make plays and they have a quarterback that does a really good job at executing their offense.

Saban said Alabama is in good shape physically. He said defensive end Luther Davis, who left the game in Bama's 62-13 win over Duke Saturday with a sprained knee and ankle, was not 100 per cent for Monday's practice, but should be ready to go Tuesday.

Saban said, "I was really pleased with the way our players competed in the game this past weekend, against Duke. I thought it sort of presented a challenge to them to have an attitude to try to dominate and play to a standard and I really felt like, especially offensively, they did that for 60 minutes in the game. The first four scoring drives all turned out to be touchdowns, and I thought we really set the tempo early in the game and did a nice job.? 

"Defensively, we played okay in the game in the first, third and fourth quarters, however, they seemed to lose it a little in the second quarter in terms of focus. They made some mental errors, didn't play with quite the same intensity, couldn't get off the field on third downs at times, so those things we need to get corrected. We did make some plays on special teams, which was a real positive and something I think we need to build on."

?Last year Alabama defeated Arkansas 35-7 in Tuscaloosa, and a major reason for the Crimson Tide win was limiting Mallett. Saban said, "I don't think what happened last year will have anything to do with what happens this  year.  First of all, I think we had a pretty good defensive team last year and made some plays in the game when we needed to make them.  I think it will be a totally different challenge.  I think they've got nine starters back on offense so they're better in terms of their consistency and execution.  I think he's more comfortable in what he's doing and what he's expected to do, not that he wasn't a very good player last year, he certainly was.  I think Bobby (Petrino) does a great job with him in terms of game plan, schemes and getting him in the right things so this will be a real challenge for this team this year, but also an opportunity for them to learn, grow, develop and try to get better."

Mallett has an excellent receiving corps. Saban said, "I think that we have to do what we do extremely well, and we're obviously going to have to do it better than we've done it all season long, in terms of our ability to cover, run force and play the gaps up front to stop the run.  They have a very good play-action game and hit a lot of big plays on those types of things so it's going to be very challenging to execute what we do, but they do have lots of weapons and I think everybody is going to have to do a really good job of executing for us to be able to slow them down. It's going to be critical for our entire team to contribute in terms of how we control the ball, as well as how we play on special teams.  These guys (Arkansas) are very good in punt return. They've done a very good job on special teams. We've got to control the vertical field position, play well on defense, play well on offense, take care of the football both ways and all those things are going to contribute to successfully playing an offensive team like this."

Much has been made of the Arkansas defensive plan last year to take away Alabama's running game. Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy had a huge game, throwing for three touchdowns.

Saban said, "I think that was one of the things that was a goal of ours in the offseason was when teams tried to do that, we were going to have to create more balance in what we did to try to be more difficult to defend so that they couldn't put more guys in the box than we could block.  I think that's something that we've tried to do in each of our games this year so far is to create balance and make explosive plays in other ways.  I think regardless of what their defense tries to do, we have to try to take advantage of what they give us and be able to execute that.  If it's running it, we have to run it.  If it's throwing it, we have to throw it, and I think that's something we've done a fairly good job of so far this year."

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