State of the Hogs: Alabama

Offense versus defense has them excited around the country for Arkansas against Alabama. There are a few things to watch for as this game develops. One of them is at offensive tackle for Arkansas.

Bobby Petrino versus Nick Saban, that's the national talk. It won't let up through Saturday afternoon when Alabama plays host to Arkansas in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

It's only natural — perhaps the best offensive college coach (Petrino) against the best defensive college coach (Saban).

They are alike in that they are going to run the best, most sophisticated, current schemes. Petrino told us last year he sees in the Alabama defense the best moves, scheme-wise along with great talent. It's a potent combination.

Most think Petrino is as good at building an offense as anyone in the college game and there is the accompanying wild card, sophomore quarterback Ryan Mallett.

NFL scouts love Mallett. There have been plenty at practice the last few weeks. They probably would come to campus anyway, but they all know they better get plenty of data on Mallett.

Most defensive coaches prepare to stop the run first, then squeeze the pass. But it was still stunning that Georgia opened the game playing run against Mallett. There's an easy answer to that now at Arkansas: play-action bombs and bootlegs on first down. Until Arkansas had to settle for field goals in the second half, you got the idea that it was going to come down to who had the ball last. I left thinking Georgia could have scored two more touchdowns if needed.

Will Saban open the game dropping eight and dare Petrino to run? Will anyone dare Mallett to throw the rest of the year? Ultimately, Georgia dropped and covered. It worked to some extent at the end of the game, although I suspect that Mallett will be coached to be more patient and take the underneath stuff if that's the Bama strategy at the outset.

That may mean more work for running backs Michael Smith, Ronnie Wingo and Dennis Johnson. If Smith's shoulder is OK, the result could be longer drives and fewer points.

Watch for Anthony Oden at weakside tackle for Arkansas. Ray Dominguez, who missed much of fall camp with an ankle injury, wasn't effective against Georgia. Oden is a freak, a 6-8, 328-pound freshman with amazing athletic ability.

He is still extremely raw with his technique. He played as much tight end as tackle in high school. He was at Hargrave Military Academy last year and is still learning under line coach Mike Summers.

Asked if there was a chance Oden would play against Alabama, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said, "There is a good chance."

Interestingly, Shawn Andrews got his first start at Alabama. He made mistakes and was beaten by a great player at times that day. But, he also won some battles. Arkansas went from not moving the pile earlier that season (against lesser foes) to moving the pile that day.

Another key might be whether Alabama's rebuilt offensive line can produce a surge the way it did in the Ozarks last year. The Hogs gave up 328 yards on just 35 Alabama runs last year in a 49-14 runaway. The Tide had zero fumbles and one penalty in an antiseptic performance that demoralized the Hogs.

Arkansas must eliminate the big play to make this a game. The one that stands out so far is the 80-yard run by Georgia's Richard Samuel when the Hogs led 21-10 lead early in the second quarter.

Fans who have called for more blitzes from defensive coordinator Willy Robinson should know that Robinson called a cornerback blitz on that long run. Ramon Broadway was coming from the outside, Matt Harris was stepping to fill in coverage on the boundary wideout and Samuel ran through a hole that true freshman Terrell Williams created when he failed to stay put.

That was the first series for Williams, following Jerry Franklin's ejection.

So will Arkansas blitz more or less with Franklin back? With Alabama's talent at running back, that might not be the way to go.

Same thing with Saban. He coaches an aggressive, attacking scheme with blitzes from safeties and linebackers. Again, that might not be the way to go against Petrino and Mallett. As always, it will come down to quarterback play.

Mallett and Georgia's Joe Cox put on a show with last week. Brilliantly prepared, they were equally good with their pre-snap reads and checks. Mallett and Alabama's Greg McElroy might not get many chances to check to the long pass. They may be checking to the run in what looms as a typical, nasty, physical SEC slobber knocker.

If Arkansas can compete in such a game, that's a good sign. Otherwise the Hogs may have to wait for more shootouts.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories