Saban Expects Tough Game From Arkansas
Alabama will travel to Fayetteville to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks at 11:30 a.m. CDT Saturday. The game will be regionally televised by Raycom. It is the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Alabama, ranked ninth in the nation, is 3-0 and coming off a 41-7 victory over Western Kentucky. The Razorbacks are 2-0. Arkansas did not play last Saturday. A scheduled game at Texas was postponed until Sept. 27 because of Hurricane Ike.
Although it was not technically a road game, Alabama opened the season in the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta against Clemson. That 34-10 Bama victory seemed to give the Tide a confidence boost to start the season.
The Clemson game and last Saturday night's win over Western Kentucky gave the Bama defense two games against a spread-type offense, similar to what is being run by the Razorbacks in the post-Darren McFadden era and in the Coach Bobby Petrino system. (McFadden, perhaps the nation's best college tailback last year, has departed for the NFL, while Petrino left the job as head coach of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons to take over at Arkansas.)
"Bobby Petrino is an outstanding coach," Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Monday. "He has proved that everywhere he's been in whatever position he has held, from offensive coordinator at Auburn to head coach at Louisville."
Saban sees the good in Arkansas' two come-from-behind wins to start the season. The Razorbacks beat Western Illinois, 28-24, and Louisiana-Monroe, 28-27. The Tide coach said it would be a mistake to assume those teams are not good. "What it tells me is that Arkansas being able to come back and win says a lot about their competitive make-up."
Saban said the Hogs have an "outstanding passing game. It seems that (Arkansas quarterback) Casey Dick has been there as long as I can remember. Their tight end, D.J. Williams, is one of the best in the league, especially from a receiving standpoint."
Alabama was never in "regular" defense against Western Kentucky. Although Saban doesn't expect Arkansas to be in four wide receiver formation as much as WkU, he does expect to have to play "nickel" (five-man secondary) and "dime" (six-man secondary) against the Razorbacks.
Saban described the Arkansas passing game as "NFL-style. They attack vertically (down the field) and horizontally." He said Petrino does a good job with quarterback development insofar as decision-making, which minimizes bad plays.
Saban didn't disregard the Arkansas running game. "I don't want to minimize the fact that I think they can run the ball because they can," he said. "We have a lot of respect for their offensive line and their runner who came into the last part of the game last year and broke a couple runs outside because of his great speed. This will be the biggest challenge for our defensive team on the year to this point."
Saban also discussed the impact Alabama's new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has had on Crimson Tide success. Jim McElwain assumed that job last winter. Saban said McElwain is adapting the system to personnel available, and that the situation is evolving as more wide receivers step up, "and we need to continue to progress." He said Bama's running game has not changed as much as the passing game.
Saban also noted that McElwain's "leadership and ability to develop quarterbacks has been an asset."
Saban said it was good to be able to play so many men in the win over Western Kentucky. "It was good for their experience," he said.
More Bama back-ups might have been able to get some playing time on defense except for an incredible fourth quarter performance by Alabama's back-up offensive players. Western Kentucky had the ball for only three offensive plays in the fourth quarter as the Tide offense had the play for 25 plays and over 13 minutes of the 15-minute period.
Saban said, "The focus is on improving and getting our team to play closer to its full potential on a consistent basis, which will certainly be the challenge for us. Coming off of this game is to go on the road in the SEC and play with the consistency that we would like to go play with. Arkansas is an outstanding team and one of the best teams in the country throwing the football. It is going to be a real challenge for us from that standpoint."
The Tide coach said, "There is really no summary of what the first three games do for you. What you would like to get out of it as a coach is that they don't help you in the SEC standings but the knowledge, experience and confidence are the types of things that you hope your team develops team chemistry. Hopefully these three games have taught us lessons in terms of the things that we were not able to accomplish on a consistent basis. Also build on the confidence of what we have done well and recognize the things that we need to improve on. Our team has made some improvement and we need to continue to improve. We are not disappointed in where we are but we are not where we can be. We are looking forward to trying to continue to improve.
"It is like an iceberg when you can only see a little at the top and there is a lot underneath the water. We just have to try and keep uncovering more and more of it and get more guys playing winning football for us so we have the best opportunity to be successful as a team. Accountability is a real big part of that and every individual on the team has to be accountable to go out and do their job regardless of what it is to help the team prepare and play well when the game comes on Saturday."
Saban said the Tide was in good health. He said offensive guard Marlon Davis might have been able to play if needed last Saturday, and that Davis was expected to practice beginning Monday. He has been nursing a hamstring injury. The coach said that Terry Grant and Prince Hall, who were injured in the Western Kentucky game, were expected back. "I don't think we have anyone that will be out of practice today," he said. We have some guys with the normal bumps and bruises for this time of year but I don't think we have any problems."
Saban also thanked Alabama fans for overcoming the problems of weather and gasoline issues to fill up Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night. He said, "I would certainly like to thank our fans for supporting our team and creating such an outstanding environment for us to play in and I know our players appreciate it. It was a real tribute to their support of the program and the team and we very much appreciate it."
In answers to various questions are his regular Monday press briefing, Saban had these comments:
On Prince Hall returning before the start of SEC Play:
"Probably more than how he played in the game is that he got to practice with the first and second team defense in terms of the reps that he got in getting back into the swing of things. Even though we didn't practice that much regular people because they didn't play regular people it gave some reps. He did a nice job in the few plays that he was in there and he did a nice job at practice all last week and he has a lot of carryover in terms of his experience in what he has done. He will certainly add some depth at that position."
On the game plan for Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs:
"Their center is an outstanding player and was recognized as the most outstanding center in college football last year and rightfully so. They are a little different now on offense. Last year they were a great running team. This year they can run the football effectively but they are very effective at passing the ball. Maybe the types of games they have been in have affected that to some degree. He is an outstanding player and what their scheme will be up front I am not sure."
On Demetrius Goode moving back to offense:
"Demetrius was struggling mentally with his injury. I called him in and asked him if he wanted to move to defense for a couple weeks to backpedal, run, chase and change direction and do all these things to try and develop confidence. It might have been good for him psychologically to go out there and play fast and get his movement back and feel good about himself and gain confidence. He did that for a few weeks and about a week ago or 10 days ago he came in and said he felt a lot better and that he doesn't worry about his leg as much and was ready to move back to offense. I think he is a little more confident now."
On the progress of David Ross:
"He played well in this game. I think these last two games have certainly enhanced his development. The knowledge and experience of being able to go out there and play has helped him tremendously. He played very well in the last game. He did better in this game than last game and didn't play bad in the first game so we feel good about him being our third guard. He certainly solidified that position over the last two weeks."
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