What Will Tide Do Vs. WKU?

Arkansas players and coaches made a quick change this week. Following the Wednesday night announcement of the postponement of the Razorbacks' game at Texas this weekend because of Hurricane Ike, Arkansas turned its attention to Alabama a week hence. After last week's performance, don't look for Alabama to be looking ahead.



This week there has been a lot of conversation in the Alabama camp about Arkansas getting an unexpected open date before hosting the Crimson Tide next Saturday. There has also been a lot of talk about Bama's disappointing performance in a 20-6 win over Tulane last week.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban has been in the business long enough to know that his team's focus this week had to be on Western Kentucky, and evidence is that Bama players got the message. Talk throughout the week was about improved practices and tough practices.

Western Kentucky's spread offense means possible change in the Alabama defense. "Possible," because in his address to the media this week, Saban said Bama's most likely defensive scheme against WKU's three- and four-wide receiver sets would be "five and six" defensive backs. But he also said Alabama may match the Hilltoppers in "regular" formation, meaning the 3-4 with just four defensive backs.

In the past, Alabama has inserted the fifth defensive back in the nickel package for either an inside linebacker or nose tackle. In the dime (six defensive backs), it is usually both a nose tackle and inside linebacker who come out.

It appears that Marquis Johnson is the first to come in when Bama goes to a fifth defensive back. He takes Javier Arenas' cornerback spot with Arenas playing the nickel position.

Alabama opponents are likely going to avoid challenging nose tackle Terrence Cody, so it is reasonable to expect Cody will be on the sidelines when Bama is in nickel.

Sometimes the dime package involves an additional defensive back. Ali Sharrief and freshman Mark Barron are possibilities. If Alabama goes this route and loses an inside linebacker, one would suspect it would be freshman Dont'a Hightower rather than the veteran defensive leader, sophomore Rolando McClain.

But Alabama has another scheme that involves dropping a linebacker into pass defense. In discussing the excellent play of Cory Reamer at strongside linebacker this year, Saban noted that Reamer (a former safety) is able to drop back into pass coverage. He could also drop back in nickel, leaving both a nose tackle and the inside linebacker. That would seem to fit Saban's plan of using regular personnel against the Western Kentucky spread.

During his weekly radio call-in show Thursday, Saban gave Alabama fans something to watch for against WKU. Prior to the start of the season the coach had said that middle linebacker Prince Hall would be suspended for the first three games. Hall missed the season-opener against Clemson and last week's game against Tulane and, of course, was expected to miss this week. But Saban said Hall had performed well enough to earn a one-game promotion and could play this week.

That is an excellent example of leadership. On the one hand, Saban handed out a tough penalty, something not lost on all Alabama players. Then Saban showed judgment and provided a lesson in unexpected rewards for hard work when he reduced the suspension based on Hall's performance.

Where will Hall play? Previously he and McClain have split time at middle linebacker. Hightower has performed well at the other inside position, weakside linebacker. It is difficult for a player to learn the assignments of one position, much less two, so it may not be reasonable to expect Hall to be able to be the back-up at both inside spots.

If Hall can get to play, that will allow him to get a little rust off before Bama's first Southeastern Conference game. Next week Alabama goes to Arkansas for an 11:30 a.m. CDT game.

With the Razorbacks getting a surprise open date this week, Arkansas practiced Thursday on fundamentals, according to reports out of Fayetteville. Then the Hogs got Friday and Saturday off and will get an early start on the Alabama game plan beginning Sunday.

The postponement of the Texas game is probably a plus for the Razorbacks against Alabama. Although players were likely disappointed to not be playing today, Texas is a good team (ranked eighth in the nation) that could have been expected to pummel an Arkansas team that had struggled to Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe. Thus, the Razorbacks don't go into the Alabama contest with possible confidence and/or injury issues that could have resulted from the trip to Austin this weekend.

Speaking of confidence, WKU offers the Alabama offense a chance to get some back. After an excellent performance in the upset of previously ninth-ranked Clemson in the season-opener, the offense regressed against Tulane. John Parker Wilson needs to be productive. In great part, that means he needs to be protected. There has been no firm report on Alabama's offensive line, but there is reason to believe that Andre Smith could be back at left tackle. That would put Mike Johnson back at left guard.

Marlon Davis at right guard is considered less likely to be ready to play against WKU. In his place will likely be David Ross.

If Andre Smith does play, it would not be a surprise if he is taken out if Bama gets the game in good shape. Then Bama may take the redshirt off one of the freshmen offensive tackles, Tyler Love, Barrett Jones or John Michael Boswell.

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