The Arkansas Razorbacks are probably looking forward to their trip to Tuscaloosa Saturday. With a 1-2 record in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alabama has been serving up a little too much Southern hospitality.
The ninth-ranked Hogs are a perfect 3-0 on the season, with their most recent victory a 31-7 defeat of North Texas. The last time Arkansas was ranked that high was November 21, 1998. With a win Saturday, the Razorbacks would go 4-0 for the first time since 1998. Arkansas has not won its league opener since defeating Alabama 28-21 in Fayetteville in 2000.
However, the game most know about is what got the nation talking about the Razorbacks: Arkansas is still riding high off a 38-28 victory over a then-number five Texas in Austin. Couple that with a 43-13 thrashing of Tulsa to start the year, and one may assume Coach Houston Nutt is proud of his Pigs.
Nutt is 2-3 against Alabama in his career after last year's 30-12 home defeat at the hands of the Crimson Tide. He is 75-45 in his career as a head coach, with his record at Arkansas standing at 39-23. Nutt made other head coaching stops at Murray State and Boise State. His brother, Danny, serves as running backs coach for the Razorbacks.
One familiar name for Alabama faithful on the Arkansas staff is Director of Football Operations Louis Campbell, who has twice served as secondary coach for the Crimson Tide (1975-76, 1980-84). Cambell's son, Steadman (named for former Tide quarterback Steadman Shealy), works with Bama Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines breaking down film.
And of course Kines served with the Razorbacks from 1991-94 as defensive coordinator and served as interim head coach for 10 games in 1992. Kines guided the Razorbacks to a 3-6-1 record that season.
The series record between Alabama and Arkansas stands at 9-4, Bama's way (although one Alabama win was later ordered forfeited by the NCAA).
Several Razorbacks are up for national awards this year. Leading the pack is offensive tackle Shawn Andrews (6-5, 370, Jr), a first team All-America who is on the watch list for the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy. Linebackers Tony Bua (5-11, 218, Sr) and Caleb Miller (6-3, 225, Sr) are both up for the Butkus Award, and Ahmaad Carroll (5-11, 190, Jr) and Lawrence Richardson (5-10, 183, Sr) are being watched for the Jim Thorpe Award. Dan Doughty (6-2, 290, Sr) is up for the Rimington Award for the nation's top center.
The Razorback offense is led by running back Cedric Cobbs (6-1, 225), who is finally a senior. The embattled tailback, who has fought through legal troubles and injuries, is having a great season. Cobbs has already rushed for 362 yards and four touchdowns. Arkansas has had a 100-yard rusher in the last six regular season games, dating back to 2002. Cobbs currently ranks ninth on the Arkansas rushing chart with 2,062 yards. He is tied for ninth in career touchdowns with 20.
Backup tailback D'Arrius Howard is also very good. Howard averages a touchdown every 14.6 carries. In 17 career games, he has scored 12 touchdowns, all rushing. Arkansas tailbacks and fullbacks have not lost a fumble in the last 17 regular season games.
Quarterback Matt Jones (6-6, 225) is a good runner as well; the junior, who also plays on the Razorback basketball team, is second on the team in rushing with 181 yards and 2 scores. As a passer, Jones has improved. He is 20-34 this season and has a 3:0 touchdown to interception ratio.
However, it is plain to see that the Arkansas offense relies heavily on the running game, as Jones has only eight more passing yards on the season than Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle had last Saturday night. Ryan Sorahan (6-4, 240, Sr) sees playing time at quarterback as well, and has 266 yards himself on the year. Sorahan was Arkansas' quarterback in 2001, when Bama downed the Razorbacks 31-10 in Tuscaloosa.
When they are throwing the ball, the Pigs try to get it to senior wide receiver George Wilson (6-1, 210). Wilson has 234 receiving yards on the year and has scored three of his team's four aerial touchdowns. Wilson notched 100-yard receiving in both of Arkansas' last two games, including 111 yards versus Texas. Arkansas has successfully thrown the ball to 11 different receivers, but only Wilson with 11 catches, Jason Peters with seven, Richard Smith with five, and DeCori Birmingham with four have more than one reception. Peters is the tight end and is 6-5, 320.
Shawn Andrews and Dan Doughty lead a veteran offensive line that can either run block or hang back to protect the quarterback. The big news about the offensive line is that it is big. Huge, in fact. Including the tight end, the offensive front averages 6-4, 310. Despite weighing 320 pounds, tight end Jason Peters had seven catches for 67 yards in the first three games. Last season the Razorbacks averaged an SEC-best 218.9 yards rushing per game.
The Arkansas defense took a heavy hit this week when it was announced that Miller, one of the two Butkus Award nominees, has suffered a leg injury that will keep him out of action for about eight weeks. The Hogs still have Tony Bua, but Bua is now playing more at safety than linebacker. Bua is tied for ninth on the Arkansas career tackles list with 309. While Bua's position move enables Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack opportunities to disguise nickel packages, some others are having to step up at linebacker. With Moore out, Wommack elevated Sam Olajubutu (5-10, 222, So) to first team.
Not many teams can boast that both their starting cornerbacks are Thorpe Award candidates, but Arkansas can. Ahmaad Carroll (boundary) and Lawrence Richardson (cover) are solid, but have not produced interceptions at the pace that some would expect this season (Carroll has one, Richardson is yet to pick a ball).
Senior end Justin Scott (6-2, 252) leads the Arkansas defensive line. Opposite end Jeb Huckeba (6-4, 236, Jr) is starting is in first season at a new position, as he played all of 2002 at middle linebacker.
The Razorbacks have allowed only 10 tailbacks to net 100 yards rushing in a game in the last 31 contests. Of course last season Bama's Shaud Williams put up 119 yards on the Razorbacks, including a game-opening 80-yard touchdown jaunt.
On special teams, the Hogs are solid with returning placekicker David Carlton (6-1, 184, Jr). True freshman Jacob Skinner (6-3, 185) handles the punting duties for Arkansas, and is averaging 36.6 yards a kick. He has placed five punts inside the 20 this year. Junior DeCori Birmingham (5-11, 200) returns punts and kickoffs for the Hogs.
A trio of Arkansas players call Alabama home. Offensive tackle Zac Tubbs (Cullman HS) hails from Cullman, while linebackers Pierre Brown (Shades Valley HS) and Michael Robinson (Jackson-Olin HS) are from Birmingham.