FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — No. 16 Arkansas hosts top-ranked Alabama at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 7 p.m. ET Saturday.
The game is the stadium’s first in five years to feature two ranked teams. Arkansas hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2006.
Here are 5 key things for Razorbacks fans to watch Saturday night:
5. Running back rotation
True freshman Devwah Whaley rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time in his career last weekend against Alcorn State. There’s obviously a giant difference between Alcorn State’s defense and Alabama’s, but it’s clear that Razorbacks coaches have tried to slowly increase Whaley’s workload over the past few games.
Sophomore Rawleigh Williams III will remain the team’s primary ball carrier — he’s already rushed for 559 yards with seven games left on the schedule — but the emergence of Whaley should help take some pressure off Williams.
It’s also clear from Bret Bielema’s history as a head coach that his teams thrive with at least two — and sometimes three — backs sharing the load.
4. Cole Hedlund
Throughout the offseason — spring and fall — we heard how incredible Hedlund looked kicking the ball in practice. That success hasn’t quite translated to games.
Hedlund has made 4 of 6 field goal attempts this season, but the two misses are troubling. The first came at a critical moment in the Hogs’ eventual win at TCU, and the second came last week against Alcorn State, when he misfired from 44 yards.
Hedlund, a sophomore, has made just one career field goal from beyond 40 yards.
The Hogs’ last two losses to Alabama have been pretty hard-fought, close games, so if it comes down to a field goal for Arkansas, that could mean trouble.
3. Austin Allen
Allen has been tremendous for most of this season. He’s completed 67.6 percent of his pass attempts for 1,232 yards, 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions — both of which came in the season opener.
But Allen hasn’t faced a defense like Alabama’s. How will he handle the pressure of competing against the undisputed kings of college football?
And perhaps more importantly, can he stay off his back (see No. 1 below)?
2. Run defense
Arkansas has been susceptible to athletic, speedy quarterbacks so far this season. TCU’s Kenny Hill rushed for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight rushed for 157 yards and 2 scores against the Arkansas defense.
Even last week, Alcorn State’s Noah Johnson busted off a 53-yard run on the Razorbacks.
Alabama’s Jalen Hurts is capable of inflicting similar damage. He’s rushed for 276 yards and 3 scores so far, while also proving to be an effective passer.
1. Offensive line play
Offensive line play has been perhaps Arkansas’ biggest problem so far this season. The Hogs have, at times, struggled to run the ball, and Allen took a beating through the first four games of the season.
While Texas A&M’s starting defensive line might be the best in the country, Alabama’s is arguably the deepest.
Put simply: The Hogs have no chance to win this game if Allen is knocked around like he was against the Aggies two weeks ago.
Another lingering issue here is the status of junior center Frank Ragnow, whose father died Saturday. Ragnow is back home with his family in Minnesota and it remains unclear if he will play against the Crimson Tide.
Ragnow has been the Razorbacks’ best offensive lineman this season, and if he is unable to play — something that would be absolutely, 100 percent justified and understandable — that would make things even tougher for Arkansas.