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Initial Impressions from the Arkansas Game

Alabama was tested, and passed.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

It’s impossible to see how any Alabama fan couldn’t be proud of the football team we saw on Saturday. The most obvious impression is that this team has the heart of a champion. They went on the road in the SEC, absorbed a ranked opponent’s best shot, and not only won going away but easily covered the spread while playing without the defending Heisman winner at QB.

This team was tested and seemingly staring down a loss with the score 28-23 and all the momentum on the Arkansas side. Jalen Milroe got them off the mat with as clutch a 77 yard run as you will ever see, on 3rd and 15 no less, and that was a springboard for the Tide to thoroughly dominate the fourth quarter by a 21-3 margin. I saw all kinds of takes, as usual, about the offensive scheming but you can’t argue with 338 yards and 35 points in 2.5 quarters with a backup quarterback.

A few impressions:

The defense was run on for the first time all season.

Saban complained in the postgame press conference about the defense “losing intensity” in the third quarter, and there is likely something to that, but the bottom line is that Arkansas RB Raheim Sanders was able to find running room between the tackles far too often, finishing with 101 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. The Tide did a nice job containing KJ Jefferson, but there has to be at least some concern here. It wasn’t all in the third quarter either as Sanders gained six yards or more on three of his first five carries. The good news is that Jaheim Oatis looked good for the most part and the pass rush was still devastating.

Milroe and Gibbs are a dangerous combination.

Much like we saw with Jefferson and Sanders, it can’t be overstated how much the threat of Milroe taking the ball out the back door impacted Gibbs’ ability to get loose on those two huge runs. Watch how the DE and LB on the left side of the Arkansas defense freeze here.

Jalen took two defenders out of the play, which improved the numbers on the front side. The line blocked it up well and Gibbs had to shake only one man. He doesn’t lose those battles often. All Milroe needs is the threat of an occasional vertical shot. Other than that, they can run slant/screen RPOs all day long which is essentially the modern triple option. When you have dynamic athletes like these two in the backfield, that is tough to stop. Especially since...

The receiver rotation seems set.

Jermaine Burton looks like the odd man out, at least for this week. Ja’Corey Brooks and Traeshon Holden seemed to draw the outside targets, but it was the slot receivers that stole the show. All three of Kobe Prentice, Isaiah Bond, and JoJo Earle made explosive plays. Put two of these burners on the field with Milroe and Gibbs in the backfield, and you basically have a track team. There is no way to scheme for that kind of explosiveness as a defensive coordinator.

The offensive line dominated late.

As mentioned above, they owe a hat tip to Milroe, but there is no question that the offensive line also did some road grading in that fourth quarter. For whatever reason, they seem to function better as a unit when Seth McLaughlin is at center. Perhaps Darrian Dalcourt is a better practice player, perhaps we are just dealing with small sample sizes, but it sure seems to look better when Seth is in there.

The defense missed Brian Branch.

Brian Branch’s injury seemed to be a catalyst for Arkansas’ success moving the ball in the third quarter. As Saban noted, the team struggled to get off the field on third down during that stretch and Branch’s absence likely played a role. Malachi Moore is his backup and he made one key pass breakup but also missed a couple of tackles before getting nicked himself. Kool Aid McKinstry had to fill in at that point despite taking zero practice reps there. Saban said that Battle and Hellams had to tell him what to do on every snap. But it worked, because...

Kool Aid is going to be a household name very soon.

Saban talked about his smarts in the postgame, referencing his understanding of the defense as a reason that he was able to fill in admirably at the slot position. Arkansas continued to give him chances to field punts which at this point I simply don’t understand. Kicking the football to that man is coaching malpractice. He is tough to beat at corner, as well. The pass interference called on him in the first quarter was complete bunk. He recovered beautifully, found the football and played it without going through the receiver or grabbing him. Honestly, I think the official assumed that he had to have interfered because it was such an athletic play. New CB coach Travaris Robinson is turning him into a monster.

Moving on

At this point all we know about Young is that he has what Saban has deemed a mild AC joint sprain, something that he has had and recovered from previously. The big takeaway is that this team can win with either QB, though the offense will look different depending on which QB is on the field. So, basically, Jimbo Fisher gets the extra headache of having to prepare this week for both Bryce and Jalen. Have fun with that, Aggies.

Haven’t seen any word on Branch but it seemed that he may have had a concussion. We will let you know as soon as we hear something. Hopefully he will be OK going forward. He is sorely needed.

Roll Tide.