This week I talked to Doc Harper with Arkansas Fight. This game marks the start of Alabama’s SEC gauntlet of a schedule. Without further ado, here’s what Doc had to say.
Brent: We Alabama fans love, admire, and appreciate the man-ball form of offense that Bret Bielema runs at Arkansas. With the stable of running backs like Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams gone and the tremendous play of new quarterback Austin Allen, does the offense have a different look than what we’re used to?
Doc: Not drastically different. It's still pro-style, but this year the passing game is hands down stronger than the running game. Arkansas has struggled a bit in that area with three new offensive linemen and the loss of Collins. The Razorbacks will still run it and try to be balanced, and have broken off some big runs here and there, but it hasn't been the same so far.
I definitely think the Hogs will try to pass more against Alabama than they have in years past. Brandon Allen ended up being really good by the end of last season, but when the Hogs were in Tuscaloosa, the Razorbacks were still trying to work with two receivers who were kicked off the team shortly afterward, and three regular starters were injured. Austin Allen has proved to be not too far away from where Brandon was at the end of last season, and the Arkansas receivers are at pretty close to full strength, so I think you'll see Arkansas try to do more in the air against Alabama than we've seen recently.
Brent: In a similar vein, how has Rawleigh Williams III stacked up to the legacy of guys like Collins? Is the fanbase sold on him being the next Arkansas bellcow?
Doc: Everybody likes him. He suffered a serious neck injury last year against Auburn and has done a tremendous job of coming back for this year, so the fanbase is really solidly cheering for him. That being said, he's not at Alex Collins' level right now. He may very well end up rushing for 1,000 yards this year, but he's not as efficient as Alex was. Hog fans are still hoping that highly-touted freshman Devwah Whaley will become a star as well, but he hasn't gotten very many carries so far this season.
Brent: The Razorbacks are currently 4-1 with a convincing loss to a very good Texas A&M team and a great overtime win against TCU. Extrapolated, that will be somewhere around a 10-3 record by season’s end. Do you think that is an accurate reflection of this Arkansas team? Are they better than their record? Worse?
Doc: I can't say Arkansas is better than that record, although that A&M loss was a lot closer than the final score suggests. It was still tied throughout almost the entire third quarter and Arkansas got inside the 5-yard line three times and only came away with 3 points. I'm not saying Arkansas "should've" won the game. Just that it was close until pretty late and that the Hogs had great opportunities to make it different but didn't capitalize.
Alternatively, Arkansas really didn't look that great in the TCU game until really late. The defense looked fantastic for three quarters but couldn't stop anything in the fourth, and then suddenly the offense went from lethargic to unstoppable at the end of the game.
Arkansas has shown flashes of great play on both sides of the ball, and been pretty awful on both sides as well, so it's hard to say. Under Bielema, Arkansas has improved as the season progresses fairly consistently, so if they can start to put it all together, they could be really good.
Brent: What is the strongest unit on the Razorback defense? Weakest?
Doc: The strongest unit is easily the defensive line. Arkansas is really pretty good there. I'll say the safeties are the weakest part. The Razorbacks really don't have any quality depth in the back seven but the starting safeties haven't scared anybody yet.
Brent: Who is an Arkansas player that people from another fan base probably don’t know about, but could make a big difference in this game?
Doc: I'll say Deatrich Wise. He's one of our starting defensive ends and is a really good senior. There are so many great defensive linemen in the SEC that it's easy for Arkansas' to get lost in the shuffle, but he, along with Jeremiah Ledbetter at tackle, are both really good linemen who can cause some disruption.
Brent: What position matchup between the two teams do you think gives the biggest advantage to Arkansas?
Doc: I don't know that there is one, honestly. I guess I'd say the Arkansas receivers against the Bama secondary just because the receivers for the Hogs are pretty good and if Austin has a little time, the Hogs might be able to make some big plays happen like they did against A&M.
Brent: What are your predictions on how the game will go? Final score?
Doc: I hate to say it, but I just don't see Arkansas being good enough this year to pull off the upset. I'll say Alabama 31, Arkansas 17.