Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Alabama/Arkansas: Reeling Razorbacks seek upset

When the Alabama Crimson Tide make the trek to Arkansas to tangle with the Razorbacks, the top ranked team in the nation better be prepared for the “kitchen sink” and everything in between.

The contest, which was expected to be a duel between two top 10 teams, took a unique turn just days ago when the Razorbacks were defeated by Louisiana-Monroe in overtime. Courtesy of the stunning upset, Arkansas plummeted out of the AP top 25, and out of the national championship picture. While title odds were slim, Arkansas certainly had very high expectations in regards to the “national picture” and the loss to LA-Monroe essentially erased those aspirations.

If the astonishing upset wasn’t enough, Arkansas starting quarterback Tyler Wilson suffered a concussion during the initial half of play, and is now deemed “questionable” for Saturday’s contest with Alabama. Wilson, who is arguably the most important player on the Arkansas roster, is considered by many experts to be one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC.

From a statistical standpoint, the potential loss of Wilson for the ‘Bama game is quite significant. On the season, Wilson is 30-of-47 for 563 yards, including five touchdowns and one interception. On the flipside, Brandon Allen, Wilson’s backup, is 10-of-27 for 118 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. The bulk of Allen’s production (or lack thereof) came against LA-Monroe where he completed 6-of-20 passes for 85 yards, with the aforementioned lone touchdown and interception.

While the actual quarterback issue at Arkansas is in flux, the Hogs can find comfort in a solid receiving unit. Tight end Chris Gragg and receiver Cobi Hamilton have been the stalwarts for the Razorbacks and will certainly be given the opportunity to shine against the Alabama secondary.

The core four (2012 stats)

Chris Gragg 14 receptions 193 yards 2TD
Cobi Hamilton 8 receptions 112 yards 1TD
Javontee Herndon 4 receptions 96 yards 1TD
Brandon Mitchell 4 receptions 122 yards

If the Arkansas passing game is not up to snuff, for whatever the reason, running backs Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson will be forced to carry the load. Davis, who missed the entire 2011 season due to injury, is considered one of the top running backs in the SEC; however, his statistics against LA-Monroe were very pedestrian. Davis was limited to only 62 yards against the Warhawks, without a rushing touchdown.

The final verdict

The name of the game for Alabama will be focus and fundamentals, something that was lacking more often than not against Western Kentucky. ‘Bama will play in front of a very hostile crowd, which if allowed the opportunity, could adversely impact the game for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama is more talented than Arkansas, but lack of focus, coupled with (or due to) a frantic crowd, has the potential to change the entire complexion of the game.

While so much talk has been centered around the Arkansas offense and the status of Tyler Wilson, it is worth noting that LA-Monroe simply destroyed the Razorback defense. The Hogs allowed 30 first downs to the Warhawks and a grand total of 550 total yards…412 of which came through the air.

When you consider the current state of the Arkansas defense, coupled with the balanced running and passing attack of Alabama, the chances of Arkansas pulling the upset with or without Tyler Wilson, are very minuscule.

While Alabama will certainly miss running back Jalston Fowler, and his absence cannot be understated, Arkansas simply does not have the overall talent to defeat the Crimson Tide.

Once all the talk has subsided, the better team will win, and like so many times before…Alabama is the better team.

Alabama 38
Arkansas 17

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