By Otis Kirk
Arkansas will return to Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday to play host to top-ranked Alabama.
The last time the Razorbacks played in this stadium they were beaten 44-17 by North Texas. It didn’t look good for the Hogs with a trip to Auburn, playing Texas A&M in AT&T Stadium and then hosting Alabama.
However, the strange thing is, Arkansas has shown some improvement against two of the better teams in the SEC. Auburn beat them 34-3 and then Texas A&M took a 24-17 victory. But they now face an Alabama team that has won 77 games in a row against unranked teams. Chad Morris knows the game will be a challenge for his team.
“We’ve obviously got a great opponent coming in,” Morris said. “They have been the standard for college football over the last several years. Watching film on them, there are very few deficiencies. They do what they do and they do it at a very high level.”
Alabama (5-0, 2-0) hasn’t been tested this season, but Nick Saban isn’t overlooking an Arkansas (1-4, 0-2) team that is likely coming off its best game of the season.
“We have a lot of respect for Arkansas,” Saban said. “They’ve really gotten better and better as the year’s gone on and played a really good game last week against Texas A&M. Their team is showing great improvement. They’re starting to settle in and looking like a good football team.
“We definitely need to be ready to go up there and our players have to play to our standard if they’re going to be able to help us play to a level that you need to play on on the road in this league.”
The last time Arkansas won in this series was 2006 when they took a 24-23 two-overtime victory in Razorback Stadium. While Arkansas has shown recently this season, Morris knows it will take more than that this week.
“We definitely showed a lot of improvements, but just not enough yet to overcome some of the inconsistencies that we have in some areas,” Morris said. “But we’re excited to get back home. We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us playing the No. 1 team in the country in Alabama. We’re looking forward to getting back in front of our fans. Just excited about this opportunity we have.”
In its five games so far this season, Alabama has led 28-0 over Louisville, 40-0 over Arkansas State, 49-7 against Ole Miss, 31-13 in the Texas A&M game and 49-0 last week against Louisiana at halftime. So all five games were over after the first half. Saban is 122-7 when leading at the half in his career.
Saban is 40-8 in road games at Alabama. The Tide has won 26 of its last 29 road games dating back to 2011 and is on a 12-game road winning streak. So it’s fair to assume playing on the road hasn’t been a difficult task for the Tide.
The last time Arkansas played in Fayetteville fans booed loudly much of the game, particularly in the second half. However, after the Texas A&M game, fans stood and applauded the Hogs as they left the field. Morris talked about that.
“Again, we understand,” Morris said. “Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to have success. We get it and we understand that. But we have to focus on what we can control. To continue to see, and it wasn’t just last week, it’s been each week that this football team comes out there, to see our fans come out and support and cheer these young men on and the love they have for the Hogs and this university, that’s always encouraging.
“Our players see it and they feel it and they know the love. They know the disappointment about where we’re at, but they also see that there is growth and they see that there is progress being made. That is very important for those guys to see that.”
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is having a tremendous season. Possibly the early favorite for the Heisman Trophy, Tagovailoa has thrown 15 touchdown passes on 88 attempts this season. He has led an explosive Tide offense, but Morris has more to worry about than just that.
“They’ve had several defensive touchdowns and obviously plays that set up touchdowns, created by the defense,” Morris said. “Special teams, I think they returned a punt, returned a kickoff. As I mentioned, there’s not a lot of deficiencies when you look at them all across the board. They’re sound. They’re extremely well coached. It’s kickoff return, it’s kickoff coverage, it’s a lot of things and they do it very well.
“So we’ve got to continue to get better. We have to address the issues that caused us to have some mistakes and we’ve got to be able to make plays when we get out there.”
Arkansas will be without running back Devwah Whaley and tight end Jeremy Patton as well as defensive tackle Briston Guidry.
The kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and televised on ESPN. Alabama is currently a 35-point favorite.