A team that loses its second game of the year in the Sugar Bowl has had a successful season. What hurts is to lose a game at the end of the year that costs a national championship. Fortunately, when Alabama has been in that position, Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide has delivered. And that’s three out of three successful national championship performances.
The problem for Bama this week is that in the first week of October the Crimson Tide has a loss, and probably cannot afford another one with a lot of football left to play. It begins this week at Arkansas. In order to win a national championship game, a team has to get there.
Kickoff Saturday is at 5 p.m. CDT with television coverage by ESPN. A circumstance that would not seem to favor the Tide is the forecast of stormy weather.
It is difficult to think about Arkansas and not think about scoring. Last year Alabama defeated the Razorbacks, 52-0. How about the year before that, in Fayetteville? Same score: 52-0.
A look at statistics this year, not quite halfway through the season, shows Arkansas out-scoring the Crimson Tide. The Razorbacks rank third in the SEC in scoring at 44.6 points per game, while Bama is sixth at 37 points per game. On defense, Bama is third in the league in points allowed, 15.8 per game, while the Hogs are down the line at 12th, giving up 25.8.
Arkansas is the SEC rushing leader, piling up 316.6 ground yards per game. Bama is only fifth at 240.4. On defense, Alabama is tops in the SEC, allowing only 64 yards per game. Arkansas is giving up 139.4 yards per game rushing, seventh in the conference.
Bama is third in the league in passing offense, 314.2 yards per game, while the Razorbacks are 13th, 167.8. Bama is fifth in pass defnse, giving up 200.8 yards per game, while the Hogs are 11th, allowing 263.8.
In total offense, Alabama is second at 554 yards per game, contrary to former Bama quarterback A.J. McCarron’s assertion that Saban has the handcuffs on Tide Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin. Arkansas is fifth, 484.4. Defensively, the Tide leads the SEC, giving up 264.8 yards per game. The Razorbacks are 10th, giving up 403.2.
The three statistics most noted by coaches as important to winning and losing are turnover margin, third down effectiveness (offensively and defensively), and red zone success (also offensively and defensively).
In turnover margin, Saban has not been very happy, and no wonder. The Crimson Tide is 13th in the 14-team league at minus four. Arkansas is tied for ninth, but only one better than Bama in the margin at minus three.
On third downs, Alabama is best in the SEC. The Tide has converted on 40-70 opportunities, 57.1 per cent. Arkansas is fourth, 28-57, for 49.1 per cent. On defense, Bama is third, allowing 18-64 for 28.1 per cent (less than half Bama’s success on offense) and the Hogs are 11th, allowing 30-73 for 41.1 per cent.
When in the Red Zone (inside the 20), the Razorbacks are scoring at a better clip than Alabama. Arkansas is 19-22 on getting scores, 17 touchdowns and two field goals, for a tie for seventh in the league. Alabama is ninth in the league, scoring 22-26 with 17 touchdowns and 5-5 on field goals.
In Red Zone defense, a mile surprise is that Arkansas has the better of it. The Razorbacks rank seventh, allowing scores on 12-14 opportunities. The Tide is 12th, allowing 9-10 trips to end in scores – four touchdowns and 5-6 on field goals.
Individually, Bama’s Armari Cooper continues to lead the league in receptions and receiving yardage (52 for 746 yards). Arkansas’s Alex Collins is the SEC’s second leading rusher at 124.2 yards per game (and the number one man, Todd Gurley of Georgia, 154.6 ypg, is suspended indefinitely) and the Hogs’s Jonathan Williams is also in the league’s top five at 97.2 yards per game.
Oh, and the last time Alabama lost consecutive games under Nick Saban? In 2008 Bama lost in the SEC Championship Game to number one ranked Florida, and then lost in the Sugar bowl to Utah for a 12-2 record.