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No two football games are likely to play out the same way, but preparation for one game could have carryover to a second, particularly if the opposing teams are similar. Both Georgia, last week’s Alabama opponent, and Arkansas, this week’s Crimson Tide foe, are similar offensively, and that has the potential to be helpful for the Crimson Tide offense.
“There is a little carryover,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “Carryover is always helpful. The more carryover you have to what you’re doing, I think the better chance you have to get good execution.”
Last week Alabama held the vaunted Georgia rushing game in check as the Tide rolled to a 38-10 victory in Athens. A late 83-yard touchdown run by Georgia’s Nick Chubb when the game was out of reach hurt Bama a bit statistically, but the Tide still leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing defense, allowing just 84 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush.
Alabama hosts Arkansas at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and if the past holds true it will match two teams that are effective running the football and formidable against the rush.
Alabama, 4-1 overall and 1-1 in SEC games, and Arkansas (2-3, 1-1) have both run the football 200 times this year and the Razorbacks have gained 21 more yards (1,020 to 999), an average of just over 4 yards per game. Arkansas ranks fourth in the conference in rushing and Bama fifth.
The task for both may be difficult this week. Alabama ranks first in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 84 yards per game and 2.7 yards per rush, and Arkansas is third in rush defense, giving up 101.6 per game and 3.7 per rush.
Although it is true that Alabama might benefit from having played a good Georgia rushing team, which like Arkansas (and Alabama) plays a pro-style offense, Saban’s teams prepare for games with a mixture of schemes. In addition to preparing for the upcoming game, Alabama works its first offense against its first defense in portions of practice. Obviously, that might add to the effectiveness of preparation this week.
Saban said, “We know what we’re going to face throughout the course of the season, and even when we’re playing a spread team, we can’t necessarily completely get away from pro-style type stuff. It’s one of the reasons we like to keep both in our offense and when we practice against each other we’re getting some reps with the players on things that maybe are different than they’re seeing this week, but they’re going to see down the road.”
While much of the attention this week has been on Alabama’s impressive win on the road over Georgia, Arkansas also had a big road win, going to Knoxville and defeating Tennessee, 24-20.
Saban said, “This is certainly going to be a challenging game for us. We have to try to build on and improve on some of the things that we're not doing as well as we need to do and Arkansas has a really good team that I think is playing better and better. They had a great win last week at Tennessee and a very physical team that runs the ball and the quarterback plays well, the defense really plays well, so it's going to be a real challenge for us."
For anyone who wonders, had Chubb not picked up that 83-yard TD run against Bama, the rush defense for the Tide would be allowing 67.4 yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry. Of course that run can’t be ignored, but Saban defended his defensive line.
The Chubb run, he said, “didn’t have anything to do with the line. We had to get it right with the linebackers and the safeties. They were all in the right gaps, and we didn’t rotate on the ball very well, so it became a big play.”
He said that even though Bama gave up that run and “a couple of other runs, I think the pass rush was pretty decent for the most part relative to the conditions (heavy rain and a very wet field). I thought we stopped a really good running team fairly well except for that one play.”
Georgia ranks second in the SEC in rushing at 244.8 yards per game, and had 189 yards on the ground against Bama.
While Alabama was getting the job done against Georgia’s rushing attack, the Razorbacks were also effective in shutting down a good Tennessee running game in Knoxville. The Vols average a third-best rushing total in the SEC, 225 yards per game, but had only 133 against Arkansas.
Saban said the Hogs “are a challenge because they stop the run well, especially last week against Tennessee. They're physical up front, they do a great job with their scheme. They play blockers well, they're physical, their linebackers are very instinctive. They get good secondary support, they play their scheme well together as a group, and between being physical and the stunts that they use to kind of mess up your running game, they do a great job of executing and they're very well coached. We had a tough time running the ball against them last year and so the expectation for us is we're going to have to do a lot better job."
Last year Alabama took a 14-13 win over the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. and neither team was able to establish a running game. Bama had 32 runs for 66 yards (Derrick Henry was 7-25) and Arkansas had 39-89 (this year’s leading back for the Hogs, Alex Collins, was 6-13).
In Saban’s previous eight meetings as Bama’s head coach against Arkansas he is 8-0. That eight-game winning streak gives Alabama an on-the-field record of 18-7 against the Razorbacks (15-8 after one forfeiture and two vacated wins). Saban was asked the key to the eight-game winning streak.
“I don’t really know,” he said. “I'm kind of worried about what's happening today and what's going to happen tomorrow and the next day right up until Saturday. I think every game is a new challenge. I don't think anything that has happened in the past is going to affect the outcome of this game and I think our players have to get ready to play one of their best games of the year to have success against a good team."