Petrino, once again, finds himself at the foot of the Alabama program, trying to gather his dismembered armor and hoping his head doesn’t go rolling off the edge of the Bama blade. There is plenty left for Arkansas to play for, and if Alabama were to be upset next week at Florida and then lose later in the year to LSU, Arkansas would be in line for Atlanta despite this slaughter. But it’s hard to imagine Alabama going down that particular path. Not without a slew of injuries or some unforeseen calamity. What this team looks like is a champion.
Linebacker Adrian Hubbard saw the most extensive action of his career, making one tackle and delivering a crushing hit to Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson for a quarterback hurry. "When you do what we do, and you have all these different personnel groups, it's not like the guy goes out in one thing," UA coach Nick Saban said. "We had a four-linebacker, one-down-guy scheme we were going to use today, and we used some anyway, and that's where Hubbard got in there. We had a three-linebacker, two-down-guys (look), then we had four down guys and one linebacker, so we really had to shuffle and mix and match."
It was still the undecided stage Saturday of second-ranked Alabama's eventual 38-14 rout of No. 12 Arkansas. A second quarter drive, set up by three Richardson plays, had stalled at the 1. Richardson, the Escambia High graduate, had screamed toward the Crimson Tide sideline, demanding the ball. When he finally got it on third down, the Razorbacks stuffed him for a loss. Alabama settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead. It was the last time he went backward. The last time he exited the field with a frown. "That's me being a competitor," said Richardson, his soft voice after the game belying the kind of explosive production he provides. "That is the type of dude I am. I wanted the ball down there. I was telling the coaches."
Yes, the standards are high at Alabama. Yes, the expectations are even higher. But did you realize the Crimson Tide has been winning despite poor performances by sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron? That is the opinion of Matt Hayes, who wrote a scathing piece about McCarron following Alabama's 38-14 victory over No. 14 Arkansas on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
LSU or Alabama? Love to hear anyone's opinion, but I'm particularly interested in Alabama fans' take on this. Why? Because I tweeted Saturday night that I could see no reason for anyone to not have LSU as No. 1. Several Bama fans pushed back, but several others eventually replied that they were indifferent, or even happy to see the Bayou Bengals have the No. 1 target on their back for a while. Unless someone makes a really convincing case, I'm going with LSU at the top of the ballot until they give me a reason to drop them. But what do you think?
The rest of college football formally surrendered to the Southeastern Conference Sunday, ending a decades-long war that had become hopelessly one-sided. The surrender took place just outside Appomattox, Va. SEC officials declined to explain why this site was chosen. "What began 85 years ago in Pasadena has been finished today," the SEC said in a statement, referring to Alabama's 1926 Rose Bowl victory over Washington, which established Southern schools as a threat. "This is our sport now."
"I think we've had some pretty good defenses through the years and certainly had a great one here in 2009," Saban said after the game. "We've got a lot of experience. The guys have to keep challenging themselves to improve. We've got a lot of good people. "I'm pleased with their performance but I'm sure that there's people that are going to see what we do and take advantage of it in the future. Every time we play, that's a challenge. We've got to play our best all the time."
Arkansas's trip to Tuscaloosa might have been the hardest-hitting contest of the year and one of the most impressive defensive performances by a college team in recent history. Alabama beat the Razorbacks 38-14, and not because Arkansas had a bad day. The Crimson Tide rolled on the strength of a defense that not only might be the best in the country, but could be the best coach Nick Saban ever has put on the field.
But as Alabama coach Nick Saban has said several times, he is fine with running between the tackles on the way to a win. Of the 24 plays that have covered 20 or more yards this season, 13 were running plays, plus the two long runs after screens. Alabama ranks 64th among 120 FBS passing offenses, but that’s not alarming to its coach. Saban acknowledged fans who like the razzle dazzle, but promised that’s not how this offense was built. There was the wrinkle of the hurry-up tossed into the mix early Saturday, but even with that, the first drive appeared to have stalled before the trick-play touchdown.
"I heard about that," Kirkpatrick said smiling. "It’s just something I’ve been messing with him about and he finally caught on to it. He’s gonna get it right. He’s gonna be crunked up up this week too."
Alabama must play Florida, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Tennessee before Nov. 5. LSU still plays Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Auburn until Nov. 5. The Gators can wreck all of this Nov. 5 talk in the next two weeks, either Oct. 1 in Gainesville or Oct. 8 in Baton Rouge. But even if Alabama or LSU drops a game before they play, that doesn't necessarily knock either out of the national title race. Win out, including on Nov. 5, and the BCS computers and voters have been known to provide mulligans to blemished SEC champions.
So I guess that would be the answer. Florida might be for real, and might even be the team to beat in the SEC East, but we just don't know yet because they haven't played anyone who would provide a good measuring stick of where the team stands. Alabama will do that this week.
Alabama's statistics on defense are good overall. It is ranked No. 2 in scoring defense (8 points per game), No. 2 in total defense (184 yards per game), No. 3 in pass defense (138.25) and No. 2 in passing efficiency defense (74.7). Florida's defense isn't far behind. The Gators are ranked No. 4 in scoring defense (9.0), No. 5 in total defense (231.75), No. 20 in pass defense (175.25) and No. 8 in passing efficiency defense (95.3).
When Florida QB John Brantley absorbed what looked like an unfiltered shot to his ribs by Kentucky LB Danny Travathan during Saturday’s 48-10 win over the Wildcats, he had trouble getting up. The team trainers took him to the locker room, but Brantley never worried about the severity of the injury. "I wasn’t really concerned because I knew how I was feeling," he said. "They just wanted to be sure. It just hit me in the right spot, knocked the wind out of me. "I’m all right. I was able to go out there that second half and be fine."