Good morning. The Rammer Jammer is a daily rundown of everything you need to know about Alabama athletics, published every weekday morning
As we mentioned yesterday, now is when it gets real for Alabama’s national championship hopes. The next four games are all against legitimate opponents, the kind who should give even the most overconfident Alabama fans pause (not that it will, but you’ve been warned).
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) October 3, 2016
It all gets started at No. 16 Arkansas this Saturday at 6 p.m. on ESPN. The Razorbacks only loss came at the hands of Texas A&M, 45-24, but that’s maybe not as lopsided a result as it initially appears. Arkansas’s offense performed well against a prodigious Aggies defense, running 88 plays for an average of 5.86 yards a play and 516 yards total. That’s an efficient mark that a Hogs fan would generally take, if not for an Arkansas defense that conceded at staggering 9.86 yards per play. Think about that. The average Texas A&M play would have been a first-down conversion, basically. Only one offense has surpassed that this season: Western Kentucky over Houston Baptist, at 9.91 yards per play. No, that’s not a high school (I checked), but it was Houston Baptist’s first-ever game against an FBS opponent.
That defensive anemia isn’t necessarily an anomaly. The Razorbacks rank 65th in the nation for total defense, giving up 374 yards a game against a schedule that boasts a win over TCU but is rounded out with a one-point win against Louisiana Tech and bigger results over Texas State and Alcorn State. Arkansas’s rush defense has particularly struggled. For yards, it’s ranked 73rd in the nation. Advanced stats have it closer to 100th. Arkansas struggles to stop efficient running, and is even worse at stopping explosive running. If Alabama’s offensive line has its act together — a moderately sized if — more of those runs over left tackle could be the key.
The Razorbacks’ pass defense is considerably better — only around 50th in the country, giving up 211 yards per game. Quarterback Jalen Hurts is still inexperienced in SEC road environments, and the environment at Razorbacks Stadium has given Alabama problems in recent years. The Razorbacks excel at getting to the quarterback, and Alabama has struggled in pass protection. Arkansas will try to put the true freshman signal caller in high-stress situations and force turnovers, and with an experienced secondary, the statistics suggest the Razorbacks may be successful.
Arkansas is one of a relative few Power 5 teams still running a pro-style offense, which Bret Bielema said could be an advantage against an Alabama defense that is built to stop spread offenses. This year, that pro-style offense has relied on quarterback Austin Allen, who boasts a 67.6 percent completion rate, a 12-2 TD:INT ration and more than 1,200 yards passing this season. While Allen is talented and can undoubtedly stretch defenses, it’s more the Hogs’ modus operandi to play efficiently. Alabama, however, is among the best in the country at breaking up dink-and-dunk passing attacks, meaning Allen will have to test the Crimson Tide downfield. Like most offenses this season, that will almost certainly mean trying to isolate one of Anthony Averett or Ronnie Harrison, who have both struggled in man-to-man so far this year.
Look, Alabama should win this game. The Crimson Tide opened as a 13-point favorite, and that line is steadily moving up. Bill Connolly gives Alabama an 80 percent chance of victory. Alabama is the better team, but if the Crimson Tide starts slowly, there’s every chance that the Razorbacks take on a very 2014 Ole Miss kind of look. A slow start in Week 3 already almost doomed Alabama. It can’t afford any more.
Anyway, here’s Saban
Coach Nick Saban gives injury updates, stresses consistency and gives the usual homage to the week’s opponent. The most interesting part of this is Saban’s comments about identifying whether a quarterback has the necessary mental makeup to start for Alabama. Saban always talks about the player winning the team, and I don’t think, in his mind, a quarterback can do that before the first game of the season, if it’s a true position battle.
- From Rivals, is new Alabama commit Dylan Moses really a 5-star recruit?
- And from SEC Country’s Chris Kirschner, Moses would be on his way to LSU if Les Miles hadn’t been fired. Well, I guess at least one Moses will get to enter the promised land.
- Speaking of highly rated linebacker recruits, Jacob Phillips recaps his recent visit.
- Key questions for Alabama-Arkansas, from The Tuscaloosa News’ Tommy Deas.
- From Ben Jones, human Mac truck Cam Robinson cleared the way for Alabama’s win over Kentucky.
- Saban said he’d listen to his players if they came to him wanting to protest. Imagine that.
- Shaun Dion Hamilton on Da’Ron Payne is hating at its finest.
- Note: I do not think Shaun Dion Hamilton is actually hating.
- Jimbo Fisher is complaining about Auburn’s pop passes being illegal.
- Alabama is paying Steve Sarkisian $35,000 this season, AL.com’s John Talty reports.
- Pearl Harbor reshaped “Bear” Bryant’s life and college football history, from Casagrande. This is well worth the read.
- AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky notes that the calendar is laid out for two third Saturdays in October this season.
- Alabama is looking forward to hard-nosed football and Wheaties this Saturday, from AL.com’s Ranier Sabin.
- ArDarius Stewart is back in practice and other practice notes from our Marq Burnett.
- Calvin Ridley, Reuben Foster and Bo Scarbrough lead Alabama’s players of the week.
- Joshua Jacobs was named SEC freshman of the week.
- Alabama’s defenders don’t want their touchdown streak to end any time soon, from Alex Byington.
- From Tyler Donohue at Bleacher Report, Alabama is one of several schools stockpiling quarterbacks.
Around the Capstone
- Men’s golf is in eighth place at its Jerry Pate Invitational.
- Men’s basketball is on the edge of a recruiting breakthrough.
- Women’s basketball begins official practices.
— Alabama Athletics (@UA_Athletics) October 3, 2016
WHEN we beat Alabama… We’ll give students, faculty and staff 1,000 large FREE pizzas on Mon Oct 10!! Time for #1 to go down!
— Rolf Wilkin (@eurekapizza) October 3, 2016
This guy told a local radio station that his accountant “thought he was crazy.” That’s because your accountant is taking Alabama and the points, Rolf.
Beat Auburn, beat hunger
Finally, Tuesday marks the beginning of a statewide hunger drive. Alabama is home to one of the largest food-insecure populations in the nation, and this annual bilateral food drive, benefitting food banks near Tuscaloosa and Auburn, is the best of our state on display. Consider joining the food fight.