Alabama Defense Faces Tough Passer
Alabama counters with the SEC's best scoring defenser (6.0 points per game), passing defense (114.7 yards per game), and total defense (170 yards per game).
Both teams are 3-0. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT from Bryant-Denny Stadium. CBS will televise the game, which will be the first road game of the year for Arkansas and the SEC opener for both Bama and the Hogs.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Crimson Tide outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw are on the same page when it comes to preparation, although Upshaw has hopes for success in an area that doesn't weigh heavily on his coach's mind: sacks.
On Monday, Saban said that the Arkansas passing game is a challenge. "They're probably as good a passing team as there is in the country and certainly have the right kind of players to do it," the Tide coach said. "They're very well coached. They've got a very good system and scheme.
"Each and every year, this is a very challenging game for the defense: How are you going to affect the quarterback? How are you going to pressure the quarterback? How are you going to cover their guys?
"This is a lot like pro football. This is what you get ready for every week, because that's how most of those teams were built. It's certainly a pro-style offense. They have some very good players and they do a really good job.
"They want to start fast. They're going to challenge you vertically downfield, as well as get everybody running and send somebody across and hit them on the run. Every mistake that you make in pass defense, you have a little bit of an issue with in terms of getting them covered."
Saban had a message for his team as preparation started for the key SEC Western Division game. After watching video of Bama's 41-0 win over North Texas last Saturday, Saban said it was obvious "When we did things correctly, we had a tremendous amount of success, and I hope what we learned is that when we didn't do things correctly, we had some negative consequences. I think a lesson to be learned is that you need to elevate your intensity, preparation, practice habits so that you get it right so you have a better chance to focus and feel comfortable and confident that you get it right.
"I think as you play better teams, those consequences sort of get magnified a little bit more and the emphasis to do things correctly becomes even greater. That's going to be the focus, the point of emphasis, with our team internally in terms of what we need to do."
Upshaw agrees. "It's SEC play," he said, "so we're going to come out and try to execute everything we do in practice, because that's what carries to the game. I would say the intensity level (in practice) is going to be very high."
One thing Upshaw likes about the Arkansas offense is that Wilson is a pocket passer. For the first three games of the season the Tide has played quarterbacks who were in quick play, getting passes off quickly so that pass rushers had little or no hope of getting to them.
"We're excited," said Upshaw. "It's an opportunity for us to go out and execute the game plan pass rush-wise. We all want to get sacks from the front seven, and the opportunity with a team like this coming in here, you just try to apply that pressure to them."
There haven't been many sacks by Alabama this year. Upshaw said, "I kind of take that personal, myself, because I have a goal to get as many sacks (as possible). But like I said, this team coming in is an opportunity for everybody, not only myself, Dont'a (linebacker Dont'a Hightower) and other guys to try to apply pressure and get to him.
"We're real hungry. The three and outs are good, but the sacks are in everybody's mind. I think everybody at least has a half a sack, and only two players have a full sack themselves. We all want to get a sack, but the three and out is good also."
Upshaw understand's Saban philosophy regarding sacks. The Tide head coach reiterated Monday what he has said in the past when he was asked to evaluate Bama's pass rush in the fist three games.
"I think we'll see this week," Saban said. "Most of the plays we had in the first game and the last game, the ball came out of the quarterbacks' hands so fast. We had guys running free in the ‘A' gap and they couldn't sack him, because he was going to get rid of it. He wasn't going to get sacked. They weren't running any vertical patterns downfield that took much time to develop where the rushers had a chance. When you face a lot of quick game, I don't think you're going to get a lot of quarterback hits and quarterback pressures.
"Against Penn State where they threw the ball down the field, we got a little more pressure on the quarterback, even though we didn't get the sacks.
"But sacks are not something that is a critical statistic in winning. Pressuring the pocket [is] and pressuring the quarterback is. But it's something we definitely need to improve on, especially with the game we have this week."
Upshaw understands the logic of Saban, but still likes the sack.
"The three and outs are good," said the 6-2, 265-pound senior from Eufaula. "Just applying that little bit of pressure, maybe you end up forcing a bad pass or something like that. Making them get rid of it early, that's a plus also. A lot of players have goals to get sacks, but what coach Saban said, I totally agree with."
Upshaw is expected to go against a true freshman left tackle for the Razorbacks, but no one at Alabama is taking comfort. Mitch Smothers is 6-4, 296.
"I'm sure if he's starting he's a good player," Upshaw said. "I don't underestimate anybody. I just go out and say, 'He's going to have a good game,' and I try to have a good game myself.
Saban said, "How many yards have they thrown for?' pointing out that the Razorbacks' tacxkle "must be doing something right."
The Tide coach comes back to Alabama.
"We have to do a better job of rushing and challenging their front people so we can affect the passing game – not just with how we cover, but how we disguise, how we pressure, how we can rush with four guys. I think all those things are really, really important."
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