Sep 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron (10) throws in the pocket against the Michigan Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
The Razorbacks were so ineffective running the ball that they attempted only five runs against 10 passes after Louisiana-Monroe closed to within seven points in fourth quarter. On one series, redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Allen — playing for the injured Tyler Wilson — threw three straight incompletions and ran just 34 seconds off the clock. The Warhawks were able to tie the game in the closing minute and win in overtime. "It was disappointing we were not able to pound it like we would have liked," Smith said. "And it’s like we’ve said all along from Day 1, there comes a point in the game where you have to be able to run it to win."
Secondary play was among Arkansas’ biggest concerns entering the season. So far those concerns have not proven unfounded. Entering this week’s game against No. 1 Alabama the Razorbacks rank No. 108 nationally in pass defense. They have allowed 319.5 yards per game through the air in matchups with Jacksonville State (a Football Championship Subdivision opponent) and Louisiana-Monroe. Further compounding the issues in the secondary is the fact that top cornerback Tevin Mitchel is out for an undisclosed period of time after sustaining a head injury against ULM and having his gall bladder removed while in the hospital. Kaelon Kelleybrew, a walk-on, and Darius Winston, who a week earlier lost his starting job to Kelleybrew, are the team's starters against Alabama. Safety play has also been suspect when it comes to stopping the pass.
Guard Chance Warmack, who started on the Alabama line that did not allow a single game of more than four sacks last season and averaged just 5.46 tackles for loss per game, said the communication against WKU was poor, as was the technique. "You can't be sloppy in your technique," Warmack said. "Sometimes, depending on who you play, you sometimes think you can take plays off and you can't do that." The usually upbeat senior was sour on the line's performance. He said he took the six sacks personally and warned against a similar result when the Crimson Tide travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to face the Razorbacks Saturday. "We have to improve on pass protection," he said. "We're playing a very skilled opponent."
"It’s critical for us mentally to bounce back," coach John L. Smith said. "Everybody has a tendency to drop their chin to the ground and carry it through the week. We as coaches have to get those chins off the ground." The process started Sunday, when Smith reminded the team that the season’s larger goals remained attainable. Arkansas can’t become a conference champion without winning the division, and Alabama is the opponent in the league opener. "That’s exactly what we tried to point out, coming back on Sunday," Smith said. "Things haven’t changed. We’re still undefeated in the league. Let’s carry on, to the practice field, and get better."
Arkansas' star quarterback did not practice Thursday. That was one day after Wilson participated some in Wednesday's practice, throwing passes but not engaging in contact. "I got no answers," Arkansas coach John L. Smith said after Thursday's practice. "Nothing for you today." Wilson suffered a head injury Saturday in a 34-31 overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Smith was asked if Wilson felt good Wednesday, why didn’t he practice Thursday? "He was busy," Smith said. So are the Razorbacks more likely to start Brandon Allen or Brandon Mitchell against the Crimson Tide? "You really didn’t expect me to tell you that, right?" Smith said, laughing. "I think they’re both there right now, tied."
The Razorbacks made easy work of the Warhawks for nearly 3 quarters, taking a 21 point lead with 9:42 to play in the 3rd quarter. From that point on, Arkansas surrendered 24 unanswered points, surrendering the game as well. In the game prior, the struggles were evident as well, allowing Jacksonville State to hang 21 points on the board before finally settling in. In their two games combined Arkansas has given up nearly 900 yards of offense, which raises the question: If Arkansas has struggled thus far against lower tier opponents, how will the Razorbacks fare against an SEC foe? My guess is not very well; regardless of who their quarterback is.
"Everybody has a tendency to drop their chin to the ground and carry it through the week," Smith said at midweek on the SEC coaches conference call, stressing that he and his staff had to pull his guys out of that lethargy. Smith said the Razorbacks were in the middle of a demanding week of practice. "We have to fight through this," said Dennis Erickson's old defensive lieutenant. "You (his players) have done this in the past. This is nothing more than the grind we put you through in the summertime, in the spring and last winter. "We're going to make it hard on the guys out there, we're going to practice hard, and if you're not totally in the boat, then get the heck out."
What was supposed to be one of the most anticipated Southeastern Conference games of the season suffered a blow last week when Arkansas blew a 21-point third-quarter lead in an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. The Razorbacks lost quarterback Tyler Wilson in that game, as well as their hopes of a national championship - falling from No. 8 to unranked. Wilson's status is uncertain for this week, but Alabama coach Nick Saban is still wary of Arkansas' offensive firepower and isn't about to accept any kind of letdown from the Crimson Tide - who are chasing their third national championship in four seasons.
Saban said coaches "constantly work with him," whether the big tackle is in a two-point stance or three-point stance at the line. Saban was asked about the issue Wednesday evening at a regular post-practice news conference. At the time, he said he had not read the SB Nation story. "We're taking care of it," Saban said on his weekly radio show, in response to a question by a fan attending the show in Tuscaloosa. "We were taking care of it before they asked me in the press conference yesterday."
In this year’s two games, Alabama has used several different formations inside the 20. Against Western Kentucky, the Tide scored three times in the red zone by using three receivers, a tight end and a running back, and everybody except the running back went out for a pass. Tide quarterback AJ McCarron then found his receiver for a touchdown. Against Michigan, the Tide used some heavier formations that used an H-back, Kelly Johnson, or a fullback. Alabama even lined up in the I-formation inside the 20. McCarron said it’s the offensive coaches who have made the effort to give the Tide plenty of weapons to use inside the 20. "Everybody has done a great job of coming up with some different plays for us, different looks, not staying in one type of scheme on offense," McCarron said. "It’s kind of putting the defense in some different situations that they’re not used to."
Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams waited two years for their turn. Perry's chance has arrived, and Williams' chance -- for this season, anyway -- has been taken away by injury. Now, the University of Alabama safeties, whose relationship was formed well before they arrived at the Capstone, are pulling for one another for different reasons. Perry started his first game at UA against Western Kentucky, while Williams, who sustained a season-ending knee injury during fall camp, watched from the sideline. "Me and Jarrick have been friends for a couple years and came in together, struggled together and improved together," said Perry, a junior from Prattville. "I think it hurt me a little bit more when he got hurt because we always had the dream of us being on the field together."
Perry said all of this time on the field is the result of a good spring. With starter Mark Barron gone to the NFL and the remaining safeties battling it out for his spot, Perry found that everything was coming just a little bit easier than it had before. "Everything started clicking into place," he said. "I started to understand the defense a little bit more, and actually started carrying it over to the field more and practicing and having instincts and everything started working and falling in place." Again, "starting" only means being on the field for the first play, but for Perry, it marked a special moment to start against Western Kentucky. He hadn't started since Prattville. "It was great," he said. "Great to be able to have my first start at home and have my parents there to watch. It was a big-time experience that I'll remember for the rest of my life."
"When we don’t give it our best week of preparation, then I guess we can be beaten," senior center Barrett Jones said. "Hopefully we learned a lesson and I think we’re preparing really hard this week and we’re approaching the game the right way. "I like all the signs I’m seeing, from the O-line especially."
So here comes Saturday, the big game with the big worries. Star quarterback Tyler Wilson suffered a head injury against ULM and his ability to play is still unknown. Faith in Smith is mostly gone. The message boards can be politely described as nuclear. There are now even more people that want Petrino rehired, forget the Harley crash. You wonder how many of them wear Razorback uniforms. The big season is in big trouble. Arkansas instantly fell from No. 8 to out of the poll. ESPN's "College Game Day" scrapped plans for Saturday and headed to Knoxville. "Don't be jumping off the bandwagon," Smith pleaded with fans this week. "We need that 12th man." He needs to hope the 12th man doesn't spend the game booing every small miscue. It tends to adversely affect the likelihood of an upset. "It is crucial for us from a mental standpoint to pump back, bounce back, to get ready to go and go to practice with an energy about us," Smith said. "That's the biggest thing: the mental aspect. … If you're not a part of this and you're not totally in the boat, then get the heck out of here."
The Alabama football team might have pitched a shutout in its latest game, but a long streak ended in a 35-0 victory over Western Kentucky. For the first time in the Nick Saban era that began in 2007, the Crimson Tide’s defense did not force a single three-and-out. A three-and-out, of course, is when an opponent runs three plays, fails to gain a first down and then punts. The streak actually lasted 77 games. The most recent game in which Alabama previously did not force a three-and-out was in a 24-23 overtime loss on Sept. 23, 2006 at Arkansas.
"It’s not like it’s going to be has hard as preparing for some other people because the variety is like, they’re not going to fool you with the variety," Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. "So, from that standpoint, it’s a little bit easier than lining up with some people. Now, you have to defend them once you get lined up."
"Arkansas is a good team, so we have a big challenge ahead of us," Alabama center Barrett Jones said. "We've been working on fundamentals this week. The errors we had last week were all fixable, so that's really been our focus this week." The Crimson Tide has won 20 consecutive SEC openers, dating back 1992, the year Arkansas and South Carolina joined the SEC. "SEC play is a big deal to us," Jones said. "We love our league. Certainly when you get to these games, everything gets turned up a lot. We know when we don't bring our best on any given day we can be beat."