Laying it on the Lines

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino labeled his offensive and defensive lines as a team strength after watching them in the preseason.

It sounded like an obvious choice. They had size and strength. They had ample depth. And they were the most experienced units on a team loaded with youth.

But the jury is still out on how strong Arkansas' front lines really are after their up-and-down outings against Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe.

That's why Arkansas offensive tackle Jose Valdez is looking forward to Saturday, when the Razorbacks (2-0) butt heads with No. 9 Alabama (3-0).

"It's a real test for us," Valdez said. "It's going to show who we are, what we are and what we can do."

Alabama's play in the trenches has been a big reason for its surprising start. The offensive line, powered by tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell, has led Alabama to 206.3 rushing yards a game.

The defensive line, anchored by 365-pound nose guard Terrence Cody, has helped the Tide lead the nation in rushing defense (42.7 yards a game).

The group is easily the biggest and best Arkansas has prepared for. So the importance of its line play in the SEC opener hasn't been lost on the Hogs.

"We have to play more physical up front," nose guard Ernest Mitchell said. "They're always coming. They keep the pound up front so we just have to bring the pound back."

The most watched collision will come in the middle, when Cody and Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs tangle.

It's not often that a one-on-one tussle between a center and nose guard qualifies as an eagerly anticipated matchup, but there is plenty of reason to watch the heavyweight scrum.

Luigs is the leader of Arkansas' offensive line and recipient of the 2007 Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the nation's top center. Cody has been an immovable force, creating headaches for offenses who have tried to run the ball.

"He doesn't move like a 370-pounder," Luigs said. "He's pretty agile for his size. I'm going to have my hands full."

Said Cody: "So far, (Caldwell is) the best center I've ever went against. I'll (be able to) tell on Saturday if (Luigs) is."

Arkansas offensive line coach Mike Summers said Tuesday his group has been improving, but its cohesiveness will be tested by Cody and the Tide. Valdez said Summers has emphasized the importance of helping each other out as the Hogs try to move Alabama off the line of scrimmage.

On the other side, Arkansas knows it can't allow Alabama to shove players around. The Hogs saw the results against Western Illinois, when the Leathernecks ran for 157 yards.

So defensive end Jake Bequette said the Razorbacks are preparing for a rugged day. It may be his first taste of the physical play, but the redshirt freshman already knows Arkansas' performance in the trenches could go a long way toward defining the strength of their lines.

And whether Arkansas can pick up a well-earned win.

"In the SEC, the team that controls the line of scrimmage is going to win the game," Bequette said. "If we can come out and set the tempo, we're really going to have a good chance."

Tale of the Tape

Arkansas vs. Alabama

307.2 O-Line avg. weight 306.8

271.3 D-Line avg. weight 310

129.5 Rushing Offense 206.3

114.0 Rushing Defense 42.7

3 Sacks By 5

8 Sacks Allowed 4

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