No. 1 Alabama aims to avoid 'poison' vs. Arkansas
Arkansas Razorbacks at Alabama Crimson Tide
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After pounding two SEC opponents 125-3, Alabama needed all 60 minutes to put away Texas A&M last Saturday.
As you might expect, coach Nick Saban wasn't happy with how the team finished the 27-19 victory and used the media to send a message to the players.
"I'm trying to get our players to listen to me instead of listening to you guys (reporters). All that stuff you write about how good we are, all that stuff they hear on ESPN, it's like poison. It's like taking poison. It's like rat poison," he said.
Saban's comments have gotten a lot of run this week, so one of the storylines heading into this Saturday's home game against Arkansas is how well his players have avoiding swallowing the poison.
No. 1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) is about a 30-point favorite over Arkansas (2-3, 0-2), so it's reasonable to think complacency could set in for the Crimson Tide heading into its homecoming matchup.
Arkansas is coming off a 48-22 loss at South Carolina.
"You can sit here and talk about what they have not done as a team or you can say they should have beaten Texas A&M and they're very capable of scoring a lot of points and being a very good team," Saban said of the Razorbacks.
"Their defense is a very sound and solid group that doesn't make a lot of mistakes, and you've got to work hard to execute well to beat them. This is going to be a challenging team. It always has been for us and we're certainly going to prepare that way."
Arkansas is averaging 32.6 points per game. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema typically fields a physical team with a strong running game. The Razorbacks are averaging 185 rushing yards but have been inconsistent, running for 106 on 32 attempts against the Gamecocks.
Moreover, senior quarterback Austin Allen's status was unclear early in the week after he suffered a shoulder injury last week. He was able to practice some Tuesday but not at 100 percent.
Coach Bret Bielema said Monday that Allen was "still in an evaluation process."
Backup quarterback Cole Kelley, a redshirt freshman, led the Razorbacks on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives against the Gamecocks, but also threw an interception that was returned 45 yards for South Carolina's final touchdown.
Bielema indicated there's no quarterback controversy brewing for the Razorbacks.
"Cole said, 'If Austin can go, he's our quarterback,' " Bielema said. "I think that's a great indicator of a guy being in the right frame of mind."
Regardless of who's under center, Bielema said the Razorbacks have to get back to their run-first philosophy.
"Offensively, we've got to get back to what we know how to do," Bielema said. "When we're not running the ball effectively, we don't have success in any phase, and we've got to do that consistently."
For Alabama, its game against Texas A&M was below average for the offense. The offensive line missed some assignments in the run game and pass protection. There were also some missed throws and dropped passes.
Alabama had 355 yards of total offense and averaged 5.3 yards per carry (232 yards on 44 carries), but it never felt like the Crimson Tide imposed their will on the Aggies.
Alabama struggled on third downs, converting 4 of 14 attempts.
Still, the Tide leads the SEC in rushing (301.7 yards per game), led by quarterback Jalen Hurts (517 yards). Alabama has a deep stable of running backs, led by Damien Harris (500 yards, 8.5 per carry) and Bo Scarbrough (294 yards).
Hurts hasn't had to do a lot in the passing game, but he's been efficient -- 70 of 111 for 870 yards, with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
While everyone on the outside may be overlooking this matchup, Saban wants all of his players and Alabama's fans to take this contest seriously.
"Arkansas, I think, has got a really, really good team," Saban said.
"I think they've got some players that can really make a difference in the game, starting with the quarterback, who certainly played well against us last year -- made some fabulous throws and really good plays. They've got three running backs that have helped them be one of the most effective teams running the ball of anybody that we've played to this point."
Updated October 10, 2017