Saban's Smarts Lead to Tide TDs
The stubborn decision, according to Nick Saban, led to the first score. Alabama lined up for a 54-yard field goal attempt on its first drive before cleverly shifting into offensive mode. Starting quarterback A.J. McCarron, the holder on field goals, shifted to the quarterback position in shotgun formation while field goal kicker Cade Foster became a slot receiver.
"I decided the first time we got into field goal range, regardless of the situation, we were going to run it," Saban said. "We had been working on it for a while -- if practice means anything -- and they ran it well."
All the Alabama eligible receivers went right, and so did all the Arkansas defenders. But tight end Michael Williams, who had lined up on the right end of the line of scrimmage, went the other way. He was wide open as McCarron lofted a nifty touch pass over his shoulder for the 37-yard strike.
The quick change on the fly came by Saban's instructions to the punt return team at halftime. The Tide return team had been calling returns to the sideline and had some success doing so early in the game, so the Arkansas players began to overplay their coverage toward the sideline. Then, at halftime, Saban changed it up.
"I told the guys at halftime that we're going to block the same guys but we're just going to block them the other way and return it right up the middle," Saban said.
That decision, and some brilliant cutback running by Alabama return man Marquis Maze, led to an 83-yard punt return and extended the Alabama lead to 24-7.
The other really smart decision Saban made on Saturday against Arkansas might seem like a no-brainer for most long-time SEC fans: focus first on stopping the run despite Arkansas' reputation as a high-powered passing squad.
"Everybody talks about what a great pass team they are, and they are" Saban said of Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks. "But when they are able to run the ball effectively against you, you've really got issues because they're going to really put you off-balance."
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart did not fear matching his defensive backs in man-to-man defense against Arkansas' talented receivers and kept enough men near the line of scrimmage to turn the Hogs into a one dimensional team. Arkansas had negative rushing yards in the first half and finished the game with just 17 rushing yards.
"If you can stay ahead of them in the down and distance and not let them create that balance, then we have a better chance to at least play football with them," Saban said. "Then we can match up and have a chance to cover them."
Saban said Alabama's first SEC game of the season was "a very physical game" but reported that the elbow injury to C.J. Mosley was probably the only one that might keep a player out of next week's game against Florida.
"He's probably going to be day to day and questionable for the next game, but we don't really know that right now," he said. "We'll probably have to wait and see, and play it by ear."
The Tide plays Florida next week in Gainesville in a night game on CBS. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Central Time.
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