Arkansas at No. 1 Alabama:

No sleeping giant: Tide refocus, prepare for Razorbacks after struggle vs. Aggies

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Alabama coach Nick Saban yells to an official during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Alabama coach Nick Saban yells to an official during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Texas A&M is making it tough on the Arkansas Razorbacks this season.

Not only did the Aggies beat the Razorbacks for the sixth consecutive time -- 50-43 in overtime Sept. 23 -- but now they've provided Alabama with added motivation.

ALABAMA 2017 SCHEDULE (6-0, 3-0 SEC)

Sept. 2;vs #Florida State, W 24-7

Sept. 9;Fresno State, 41-10

Sept. 16;Colorado State, W 41-23

Sept. 23;at Vanderbilt, W 59-0

Sept. 30;Ole Miss, W 66-3

Oct. 7;at Texas A&M, W 27-19

Saturday;Arkansas (6:15 p.m. ESPN)

Oct. 21;Tennessee

Nov. 4;LSU

Nov. 11;at Mississippi State

Nov. 18;Mercer

Nov. 25;at Auburn #Game played in Atlanta

The No. 1 Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC) beat their first five opponents by a combined 231-43, including Vanderbilt 59-0 and Ole Miss 66-3 in conference play.

Then the Aggies gave Alabama a game before the Tide held on to win 27-19 at Kyle Field on Saturday.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban now has a reason to get his team refocused with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (2-3, 0-2) heading to Tuscaloosa to play the Tide at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.

The Tide led Texas A&M 24-3 in the third quarter, but the Aggies responded with two touchdowns -- including a score after recovering a fumble -- and blocked a punt that resulted in a safety.

"Even though Texas A&M really played a good game, played hard, showed a lot of heart in the game, we played a pretty ordinary game for us," Saban said Monday. "I don't think we executed the way we'd like to with the consistency we'd like to in the game.

"I think it's something that as coaches we take responsibility for, but also want to take responsibility for getting everybody to respond the right way so that we have a chance to improve, help our players be the best players that they can be."

Texas A&M had the audacity to take a 3-0 lead over Alabama.

"I think we got punched in the nose a little bit, especially when we fumbled the ball and they scored a touchdown and the crowd got into the game and they got the momentum," Saban said. "I think it's important that your team learns how to respond to that.

"I guess we could debate as to whether we responded very well to that or not. In my opinion, not as well as we need to. So there's definitely an opportunity to learn something from that experience, and that's what we'll try to take from this."

Alabama committed its first turnover this season when wide receiver Robert Foster lost a fumble, and the Tide allowed their first safety since 2009 against LSU.

"I hope people can look at this game and see how did they advance themselves in terms of the way they played," Saban said. "Is this a game that you would tell everybody, 'Yeah, watch me in this game because I really played well?'

"If you can't say that, then you should take a real look in the mirror and say, 'What do I need to do to get better here?' I do think sometimes when things don't go well, people are a little more willing to respond. I'm hopeful that our team will respond well in this circumstance."

In other words, look out Razorbacks.

"It's definitely important for any team not to get complacent," Alabama senior linebacker Rashaan Evans told after the Texas A&M game. "The fact that we gave up 19 points is not good at all because we'll be playing better teams.

"Any time you give up 19 points, it can easily be pretty bad."

But Alabama has been pretty good.

The Tide lead the SEC in scoring offense (43.0 points per game), total offense (483.0 yards) and rushing offense (301.7).

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has rushed 69 times for a team-high 517 yards and 5 touchdowns and completed 70 of 111 passes (63.1 percent) for 870 yards and 7 touchdowns without an interception.

Tailbacks Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Najee Harris have rushed for 500, 294 and 199 yards, respectively, and combined for 12 touchdowns. Calvin Ridley has 29 catches for 390 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Strong safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who had three interceptions against Arkansas last season, is the SEC Defensive Player of the Week after having an interception, forced fumble and three tackles for lost yards at Texas A&M.

The Tide lead the nation in rushing defense (73.3 yards per game) and are fourth in scoring defense (10.3 points).

Free safety Ronnie Harrison leads Alabama with 32 tackles, defensive end Raekwon Davis has 3 of the team's 14 sacks and cornerback Levi Wallace has 3 interceptions and 6 pass breakups.

Place-kicker Andy Pappanastos has hit 10 of 13 field goals and all 31 extra points. JK Scott hasn't had any of his 19 punts returned, and 11 have been fair caught or gone out of bounds inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

Oddmakers have installed Alabama as a 29½-point favorite against Arkansas, although Saban heaped praise on the Razorbacks and quarterback Austin Allen.

"Arkansas, I think, has got a really, really good team," he said. "I think they've got some players that can really make a difference in the game starting with the quarterback, who certainly played well against us last year, made some fabulous throws and really good plays."

Saban ignored the fact the Razorbacks rushed for 106 yards on 32 carries -- a 3.3-yard average -- in a 48-22 loss at South Carolina last week and lauded running backs David Williams, Devwah Whaley and Chase Hayden.

"They've got three running backs that have helped them be one of the most effective teams running the ball of anybody that we've played to this point," Saban said. "I think you can sit here and talk about what they have not done as a team or you can say they should have beaten Texas A&M and they're very capable of scoring a lot of points and being a very good team."

Saban said he's impressed by Arkansas' new 3-4 defense.

"Their defense is a very sound and solid group that doesn't make a lot of mistakes, and you've got to work hard to execute well to beat them," he said.

Saban is 13-2 as a head coach against Arkansas, including 10-0 at Alabama. He has a 12-game winning streak against the Razorbacks since they beat his LSU team 21-20 in 2002, but he spoke respectfully of Arkansas.

"This is going to be a challenging team," Saban said. "It always has been for us and we're certainly going to prepare that way."

Sports on 10/11/2017


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