FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — No. 16 Arkansas is scheduled to host top-ranked Alabama on Saturday night at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Marq Burnett, SEC Country’s Alabama beat writer, joined the Borderline Erotic Podcast earlier this week to help us break down the game. What follows is an abridged version of that conversation.
Kersey: Alabama always talks about approaching every game the same way, and it certainly seems like they’re able to practice what they preach. How are they able to do that?
Burnett: That’s the thing about Alabama. They are so entrenched in what Nick Saban likes to call the “process” that no game feels like it’s a big game anymore. So every week, it’s like, “Alright, let’s go beat this team this week and move on to the next game.” The excitement level isn’t always as high as you probably would think it should be. It’s been that way for awhile, especially the last couple years, with just the way they’ve handled business on the field.
Kersey: With Arkansas’ offensive line struggles, do you expect Alabama’s defensive front to have a big game?
Burnett: Yeah, definitely. If you look at Alabama and the way they’re built, they don’t have as many of the big guys to stop the run, but they still have enough. You look at guys like Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson and then, in terms of pass rushers, they’ve got so many pass rushers. That’s the real strength of this team this year. If you have a quarterback who’s not very mobile or an offensive line that’s struggling, you can get punished if you’re a quarterback.
Kersey: Alabama has always had game manager-type quarterbacks, but in Jalen Hurts, they have a real playmaker. What kind of difference has that made for the offense?
Burnett: If you look at how they got back into that Ole Miss game, they basically put the offense on his shoulders and said, “Hey, go bring us back in this game” as a true freshman. He’s a guy who is very dynamic and has the arm strength to throw the ball down the field, but at the same time, they can use him in some designed runs. So basically if he makes a guy miss, it’s a big play. He’s been able to run the ball up the middle very effectively. He’s very smart, doesn’t take a lot of hits. In the past, if you just crash hard on Alabama’s running game, you kinda take the quarterback out of it. … With Hurts, if they’re running that zone read and the defensive end or the linebacker doesn’t play his assignment right, Hurts can burn you and turn a 5-yard gain into a 25-yard gain or even a touchdown.