Football returns to SEC action in Arkansas matchup 


CW / Lexi Hall

The Alabama defense huddles up during a 59-3 win over New Mexico State on Nov. 13, 2021.

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

Alabama football returns to conference action on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will host the Arkansas Razorbacks on Nov. 20 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 

The last time the Crimson Tide took the field, the team coasted to a 59-3 victory over the New Mexico State Aggies. To many, this was one of the few complete-effort wins fans have seen from Alabama. 

With its nonconference slate now over, Alabama moves to the hardest stretch of its schedule yet. First up is a matchup with Arkansas. 

Finding a way back to the top 

The Razorbacks have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows this season. Arkansas raced to a 4-0 start with signature wins over Texas A&M and Texas. The Razorbacks were the No. 8 team in the country heading into a clash with No. 1 Georgia. 

Then, everything took a dive. 

Arkansas was shut out against Georgia, lost a heartbreaker in Oxford to Ole Miss and lost by 15 points at home to Auburn. 

The Razorbacks went from the top 10 to unranked in less than a month. The team was down, but not out. 

“The Razorbacks learned they just have to play their brand of football and things will be fine,” said Mason Choate, sports editor at The Arkansas Traveler. “They are not a flashy team with four- and five-star talent. They are a hard-nosed, blue-collared football team that will take a hit, and hit back. They’ve shown that the past two weeks.” 

With the help of injured players returning to the lineup and a much-needed bye week, Arkansas has had a bit of a resurgence. The Razorbacks have won their last three games. This includes conference wins against Mississippi State and LSU. 

Arkansas has cracked the top 25 again — the team currently sits at No. 21 in the country — and looks to be a much tougher opponent than it was three weeks ago. 

“They play well together,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “They play winning football. They’re very effective at running the ball on offense. They don’t turn it over. They get off the field on third down. They play good pass defense.” 

Defend the trenches

Yet again, the Alabama offensive line will have a tough test against a talented defensive line. 

Arkansas’ pass rush was the talk of the town during Arkansas’ fall camp. The Razorbacks brought in three graduate transfers during the offseason.

However, the Razorbacks’ pass rush has generated inconsistent results on the field. 

“After they completely embarrassed Texas A&M in Week 4, the D-line went silent for a long time,” Choate said. “The pressure has stepped up a bit over the past two weeks, and Arkansas did blitz more than usual against LSU. The ceiling is high for the Razorback pass rushers, but they have been playing closer to their floor for most of the season.” 

Arkansas racked up three sacks and eight quarterback hits against Texas A&M. Alabama didn’t record a single sack or quarterback hit against Texas A&M. 

Arkansas is 30th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in team passing efficiency defense. Alabama is 44th in the country. 

Alabama is No. 88 in the FBS in sacks allowed this season. The Crimson Tide have allowed 2526 sacks in total, averaging 2.5 sacks per game. 

The order is tall, but this is hardly the first stout defense Alabama offensive line coach Doug Marrone has had to prepare his unit for. 

Texas A&M and Mississippi State are ranked 27th and 28th respectively in total defense. The defense that the offensive line plays against in practice is ranked No. 5 in total defense.

Fans have seen what the offense can do when the guys up front protect quarterback Bryce Young. 

Young was able to pick apart the New Mexico State secondary last Saturday. Young completed 21 of 23 passes for 270 yards and five touchdown passes. Despite giving up two sacks, the offensive line gave Young a relatively clean pocket to throw from. 

If Young doesn’t have time to throw, he may have an even harder time against an improving Razorbacks secondary. 

“Three weeks ago, I’d say Alabama is going to light up the Arkansas secondary,” Choate said. “I don’t think that is the case anymore. During the bye week, the Hogs focused on competition in the secondary, and the results have been great so far.” 

The battle of the quarterbacks

It’s no secret that Young and Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson are among the top SEC quarterbacks. As a redshirt sophomore, Jefferson has emerged as a top passer. 

Jefferson has completed 65% of his passes, for 1,990 yards. He has 17 touchdowns to just three interceptions. 

“As far as quarterbacks in the SEC go, KJ Jefferson is not being talked about enough,” Choate said. 

Jefferson is also a threat in the rushing game. He has rushed for 474 yards on 104 attempts, racking up five touchdowns. 

Jefferson is talented. Young has proven to be a legitimate Heisman candidate. The makings of a quarterback battle are there. 

This isn’t the first time an Alabama football game featured two talented quarterbacks. In the season opener, it was Miami quarterback D’Eriq King vs. Young. Young shone, becoming the first ever Crimson Tide quarterback to throw for four passing touchdowns in his first start. 

King, on the other hand, struggled. Despite completing 23 of 30 passes, King also threw two interceptions. The Alabama defense sacked him four times. 

The same thing happened again when the Crimson Tide faced Ole Miss. 

On Oct. 2, Rebels quarterback Matt Corral was the Heisman favorite after a seven-touchdown performance against Tulane. 

Once again, Young shone as the opposing quarterback faltered. Corral was held to just 213 passing yards  — the second-lowest total for the Rebels this season. 

This season, Young has won some important quarterback matchups. 

The pressure is on Jefferson. The crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be energetic for the last home game of the season. This is one of the toughest matchups on either team’s schedule. The stakes are high. 

“When the pressure has been high, Jefferson has delivered,” Choate said. “He trusts himself, the coaches trust him, and his teammates trust him. But, more importantly, Jefferson trusts those around him, and that is what a true leader does.” 

Jefferson will need to be a vocal leader if he and his Razorbacks plan on walking out of Bryant-Denny with a win. 

Saturday’s game will kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CT and will be broadcast on CBS.