No. 2 Alabama faces second road test of season at No. 20 Arkansas

Austin Hannon | @austin_hannon1, Sports Editor

It’s been three weeks since the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide squeaked past the Texas Longhorns in Austin. Since then, Alabama has bounced back in a big way on its home field, outscoring the University of Louisiana at Monroe Warhawks and Vanderbilt Commodores 118-10 to move to 4-0 on the season. 

The 52-point win over the Commodores was a solid start to a daunting SEC schedule. 

“We had a good start in the SEC,” head coach Nick Saban said. “I think we played a little better in the last game, paid better attention to detail.” 

A tremendous task is at hand this week, with the Crimson Tide traveling to Fayetteville for a meeting with the No. 20 Arkansas Razorbacks. 

“This is a very dangerous team we’re playing in Arkansas,” head coach Nick Saban said. 

Arkansas (3-1) was a handful a season ago for Saban’s bunch, fighting Alabama for four quarters before the eventual national-runner up Crimson Tide won 42-35. Quarterback Bryce Young had a career day, throwing for 559 yards and five touchdowns — the most an Alabama quarterback has ever thrown in a single game. 

The good news? Young may be able to have a similar game. The Razorbacks are allowing 302.5 yards per game in 2022, good enough for 126th in the nation. The bad news? The Crimson Tide’s inconsistent running game is going against a sturdy Arkansas run defense that is allowing just 100 yards per game on the ground. 

Down the stretch of the season, Saban wants his team to feature more balance on offense. 

“I think you build an identity over a season, and we’re going to continue to try to do that so we have balance and we feature the players on our team,” Saban said. 

One of the guys featured in the Razorbacks’ front seven? Linebacker Drew Sanders, who was a member of the Crimson Tide the last two seasons. 

“I’m happy to see him [Sanders] do well,” Saban said. “He’s a fine young man. He did a good job for us here, and you always like to see guys like that do well. We hated to lose him, but the way college football is right now, you’ve got to be able to deal with those kind of things.” 

Sanders’ former rushing counterpart, Will Anderson Jr., had quite the time with the media this week. Anderson — who has been known to say intimidating things in the past — featured another brilliant quote ahead of the game. 

“I tell people all the time that the audacity for the other team to even step on the field is disrespectful to me,” Anderson said. 

Opposite Young on the Arkansas sideline will be Razorbacks quarterback KJ Jefferson. Jefferson is a tremendous dual-threat option on offense, and with his size, is hard to contain. 

“This guy’s pretty unique and he does a really good job of executing what they want to do on offense,” Saban said. “He’s physical. He’s really hard to sack. He always falls forward when he runs the ball. He runs behind his pads, will run over guys if he has to. It’s unusual to have a guy that has that kind of a mindset that plays the QB position.” 

It seems Alabama may have turned a corner in the past two weeks as the team attempts to figure out its identity. Just three weeks after a near-upset in Austin, Saban believes this will be his team’s toughest challenge yet. 

“This is going to be a different kind of challenge for us, really tough game and we’re going to have to answer with how we play,” Saban said. “Obviously, we’ll be able to see where we are as a team, but psychologically, I think everybody has to know this is the toughest challenge of the year.” 

The Crimson Tide may gain a piece it hasn’t had all season in wide receiver JoJo Earle, who has practiced all week in preparation for Saturday. 

“He’s practiced this week,” Saban said on Wednesday evening. “We’ll see how he is on a day-to-day basis and have to make a decision about that tomorrow.” 

No official decision has been made, but the hope is that Earle will be able to play in his first contest of 2022 — another weapon to have against the Arkansas secondary. 

Kickoff from Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium is set for 2:30 p.m. CT on CBS.

Questions or comments? Email Austin Hannon (Sports Editor) at [email protected]