State of the Hogs: Alabama

Here are some thoughts from publisher Clay Henry on the Arkansas-Alabama football game Saturday.

There will be some intense mind games played in an effort to deceive two young quarterbacks when Arkansas and Alabama meet Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Reggie Herring (Arkansas) and Joe Kines (Alabama) are the two defensive coordinators who will be trying to mess with the thinking and reads of quarterbacks John Parker Wilson (Alabama) and Mitch Mustain (Arkansas).

I remember Kines pulling linemen and inserting extra linebackers to discombobulate Arkansas sophomore Robert Johnson last year. Fortunately, those linebackers had the hands of linemen and dropped about four potential interceptions Johnson threw into the zone Kines had deployed to gobble up all of those short routes the Hogs were trying to run.

It will probably be something different this year. Kines doesn't have as many linebacker types and may have more talent at cornerback and safety. Still, I'd be willing to bet that Kines will give Mustain a look he hasn't seen yet in three college games and with more speed than he saw against Utah State or Vanderbilt.

What the Hogs have most is cornerbacks. I figure Herring will play to that strength, if the Hogs can stop the run on early downs. I can't imagine the Crimson Tide not trying to pound the Hogs on the early downs. Surely, the Tide will want to see for themselves if the Hogs have improved their tackling since the Vandy game.

Neither team was great at stopping the run last week. Vandy gashed the Hogs early, mostly because of alignment mistakes. When the Hogs did get lined up right as the game progressed, they didn't tackle so hot. I figure the Hogs will improve in both areas against the Tide, although I don't expect them to be perfect, either.

Louisiana-Monroe had a back puncture Alabama's defense in the first half and he probably wasn't in the same league as Darren McFadden, Felix Jones or Michael Smith. If ULM can hurt the Tide with the run, the Hogs can, too.

If either team is able to run with authority, they probably are going to find some lanes to throw it, too. But that's where the defense is going to be different. Kines and Herring don't play their secondaries alike. Kines is a zone man. Herring prefers more man, especially on the outside.

The wild card is probably protection. Neither team could protect their quarterback last year. Can they improve that protection this time around?

If not, that's going to lead to more field goals than touchdowns because I don't think either team can rely on just the ground game. That could be interesting. Jamie Christensen kicked three game winners last year, but has been hurt some this season. Walk-on Leigh Tiffin stepped connected on the game-winner in the fourth quarter to beat Vanderbilt. The Hogs will probably go with Jeremy Davis for a second straight week after the sophomore was good on all four kicks (three extra points and a field goal) against Vandy. The field goal was nullified by a procedure penalty, but at least he put it through the uprights.

Turnovers are usually the wild card in this series. That doesn't sound great for the Hogs since they have yet to force one in three games this season. And, the Hogs aren't sure if sure-handed Peyton Hillis will be available to catch punts after missing Tuesday and Wednesday workouts with a thigh bruise.

The Tide knows Hillis well. He was the star two years ago in a Fayetteville victory over ‘Bama, scoring two touchdowns, running over several Alabama defenders in the process. The good news is that the Hogs don't have to depend on Hillis to make all of the plays anymore.

Some have ached for more touches for Hillis. Even with reduced touches, Hillis has still been a major factor in the offense. He's opened things up for the outside receivers because linebackers and safeties have had to follow him when he's been the motion back. That's the way the offense should work.

That's not a bad deal at all. Hillis isn't the most dangerous back anyway. If I was going to make a list of the top UA threats, I'd put Hillis at about fifth, behind the tailbacks (McFadden, Jones and Smith) and wideouts Marcus Monk, Damian Williams and London Crawford. That doesn't mean he isn't a weapon, just one of many weapons.

In my mind, I'm happy with the way Mustain spread the ball around to all of those weapons at Vandy and figure that's the way the Hogs will continue to work the offense. It probably hasn't helped Hillis that he's had to spend so many snaps in practice as a backup tailback over the last six weeks with McFadden (toe), Smith (hamstring) and Jones (back) all have missed significant practice time.

I won't worry who gets the touches as long as the Hogs get to 2-0 in the SEC by late Saturday afternoon. That's the only thing that matters. Someone suggested that Houston Nutt needs a big victory over Alabama to satisfy disgruntled fans.

Nope. He just needs a victory and one by the narrowest margins will be just fine. I don't care who gets the touches and I won't fret if there are a few missed tackles. All I want is a victory.

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