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Alabama Football vs. Arkansas Preview: When the Crimson Tide has the ball

Drew Sanders revenge game? Or Alabama revenge vs Sanders?

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

While the Razorbacks vaunt a solid, well-rounded offense, they have something of a feast-or-famine defense that simultaneously leads the league in sacks (20) and has also given up the second most passing yards per game in the SEC (302). This has lead to the Razorbacks giving up 26 points per game, with South Carolina and noted powerhouse Missouri State both scoring north of 27 on them.

Of course, losing All-American safety Jalen Catalon at the start of the season is a very valid excuse. However, Catalon also missed most of the second half of last season, so there should be some continuity without him now, and the secondary has mostly just been in shambles for the Hogs.

Defensive coordinator Barry Odom returns for his 3rd season with head coach Sam Pittman in this Arkansas rebuild. Odom was a highly regarded defensive coordinator at Memphis and Missouri before being promoted to Missouri’s head coach, and ultimately failing. While many viewed this as a rebound project for him on the way to getting another head coach job, Odom likely had a fair share of opportunities this offseason, and decided to come back.

He’s a linebackers coach at heart, and his defenses though multiple programs over the years have always featured an active, aggressive front 7 and pass rush - Which has played out so far in 2022. Twenty (20) sacks in 4 games to open the season is just nuts, and a familiar name is leading the charge: Drew Sanders.

The former Tide LB has technically moved to an off-ball role, but is still rushing the passer with regularity and is having a lot more success at it than he was for a few games as a starter at Alabama last year before injuring his hand. Sanders is already being talked about as the best Arkansas pass rusher in a decade and the easily the best player on their defense right now. He has 6 sacks, 7 TFLs, 2 forced fumbles, 2 pass deflections, and 32 total tackles so far.

His running mate is someone that has to have been playing for Arkansas since before the iPhone was invented: Bumper Pool. The 5th year senior has been starting games regularly since 2018 and will continue to be a solid, if unspectacular, tackling machine.

The defensive line features a whole host of experienced upperclassmen at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Jordan Domineck, a rotational speed rusher who transferred in from Georgia Tech, has 4 sacks, with defensive end Zach Williams, defensive tackle Eric Gregory, and LSU transfer Landon Jackson adding another 6.5.

But back to the secondary..... They’ve been less than stellar. And that’s with the best pass rush in the NCAA so far supporting them. They did seem to tighten up last week against Texas A&M, but whether that was a product of them improving with nickleback Myles Slusher returning from injury, or just a result of an anemic Aggie offense remains to be seen.

The only real production they’ve gotten from the secondary has been from cornerback Dwight McGlothern, another LSU transfer. While he’s had his fair share of busted plays, he also has two interceptions and a couple of passes defended.

This is going to be an interesting game to watch. In his two seasons, Bryce Young seems to be very Jekyll and Hyde with how he deals with blitzing, heavy pass rush teams. Sometimes he’ll get the ball out quick to his hot routes and shred them (Arkansas last year), and sometimes he’ll spend 3 quarters with his brain frozen until he remembers how to beat a blitzs (Iron Bowl). Which one do we get this time?

It’ll definitely be a good test for the offensive line this week. If freshman Tyler Booker comes in again in place of either Javion Cohen or Emil Ekiyor and the offense works efficiently with him in there, don’t be surprised if it winds up being the inflection point on winning him the starting job.

I think Alabama scores fairly often on big plays in this one, but have their fair share of ruined drives as well. I like about 35-38 points for the Tide this time.