Underdog HOGS vs. Bama preview

Underdog HOGS vs. Bama preview

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FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas Razorbacks likely need more than David’s slingshot to fell the giant awaiting them Saturday night.

As 31.5-point underdogs, the Razorbacks (2-5, 0-4 in SEC) face Nick Saban’s No. 1 reigning national champion Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0) at 6 p.m. at Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. ESPN will televise the game. 

The best chance for Arkansas coach Chad Morris’ Razorbacks seems to be Alabama overlooking them, but Saban’s Tide rarely overlooks anybody.

The Tide has rolled the last 88 times it faced an unranked team, and with an open date next week, Alabama has no reason to look ahead.

Without his nose growing like Pinocchio’s, Saban ingrains in his players to respect every opponent. Even an Arkansas that went 2-10 last year and since 2017 has lost 15 consecutive SEC games, including 51-10 last week to visiting Auburn.

“We have a lot of respect for Arkansas,” Saban said. “They’ve got some really good players.”

The Hogs do have a few good players. Tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, running back Rakeem Boyd, receivers Trey Knox, Treylon Burks and Mike Woods, defensive tackle McTelvin “Sosa” Agim and linebackers De’Jon “Scoota” Harris, Bumper Pool and safety Kamren Curl come to mind.

But they don’t have enough, particularly against Alabama, loaded everywhere, though this week not customarily loaded at quarterback.

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback, severely sprained an ankle during last week’s 35-13 SEC triumph over Tennessee. He had surgery with hopes he can return Nov. 9 against No. 2 LSU. 

Sophomore Mac Jones finished six of 11 for 72 yards against Tennessee and will start against Arkansas. A four-star recruit, Jones redshirted in 2017 behind Jalen Hurts, now a graduate transfer Heisman Trophy candidate at Oklahoma, and Tagovailoa. Jones lettered last year behind Tagovailoa and Hurts by mostly holding for place-kicks,

Next year was supposed to be Jones’ time, but good backups prepare like anytime could become their time.

“He’s been good,” Saban said. “Really good. His disposition has been good. And he’s executed really well.”

With the nation’s best offensive line and receiving corps, it’s not like Jones carries Bama's offense. Jerry Jeudy leads four great receivers, and Najee Harris paces a stable of running backs by averaging 5.9 yards per carry. 

“He has got a great supporting cast around him,” Morris said. “If you are a quarterback at Alabama, you are definitely a really really good football player. Mac is no different. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Alabama’s defense may be young, but it plays like a veteran unit, allowing 16.4 points per game. That ranks 13th nationally and third in the SEC behind Georgia (10.6 ppg) and Florida (15.8 ppg) and one spot ahead of Missouri (16.6 ppg). Arkansas ranks next to last in the SEC and No. 93 in the nation by giving up 30.7 ppg.

And Arkansas’ already thin offensive line seems more patchwork than ever with senior starting left guard Austin Capps of Star City (concussion) and senior starting left offensive tackle Colton Jackson of Conway (back) sidelined by injuries.

Last week against Auburn, the Hogs couldn’t protect starting quarterback Ben Hicks. Hicks, and Nick Starkel, a starter for four of Arkansas’ games between Hicks starting the first two and then last Saturday, could be summoned in Tuscaloosa.

“Obviously, we just wanna kinda see where these guys are as the week continues to progress,” Morris said. “We’ll keep pushing today.”

Last year’s Hogs did score 31 on Alabama, far short in a 65-31 loss, but more than any team scored on the Tide in its 12 regular season games of 2018 and SEC Championship victory over Georgia.

“I thought we did a great job of mixing up our run-pass and tying in some screens to take advantage of how hard they pursue and rush,” Morris said.

But this is a better Tide defense, Morris said, citing the young talent up front and at the inside linebackers blending with a veteran secondary and fourth-year junior outside linebacker Terrell Lewis (6-5, 252). 

The Tide’s special teams are special, too, Morris said.

“There’s a reason they are No. 1 in the country,” Morris said.

But there’s a reason they play the game, including upsets this season with elites Georgia and Wisconsin losing to the likes of South Carolina and Illinois.

“It’s time to shock the world if we can,” Arkansas junior backup middle linebacker Grant Morgan of Greenwood said. “We have to fight for it.”

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