Alabama’s Nick Saban did not become the nation’s most successful and highest-paid college head football coach by minimizing the challenge his teams face.
That was the same tone and mindset he took on Monday when he talked about the No. 2 Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0) and their trip to No. 20 Arkansas (3-1, 1-1) Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. SEC clash.
“This is a very dangerous team we’re playing in Arkansas,” Saban said. “They have a very, very good team. Coming off a tough loss.”
That loss was a 23-21 one to Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic in Arlington, Texas on Saturday.
Arkansas led 14-0 before giving up 23 unanswered points and then being unable to rally late to grab the victory.
Saban was asked what he takes from watching a team lose before his squad.
“First of all, I don’t see their team after they lost,” Saban said. “You know, I see the game. I see how they lost. I’m sure they’re very disappointed. I’m sure they’ll be upset with the way the game ended, the outcome of the game.
“Whether it was the fumble where they had a chance to go in and score a touchdown and got returned 98 yards or whatever for a touchdown, which is like a 14-point swing.
“But I don’t really control how the other team thinks or what they do. I think the key for us is to play the best that we can play and not allow the other team to get well when they play us because of how we play. I’m sure they’ve got their goals and aspirations for how they wanna play.”
Saban has been positive about Razorback linebacker Drew Sanders, who started three games for Alabama last year before getting hurt and then eventually transferring to Arkansas.
“He’s a fine young man, really good football player,” Saban said back on the SEC media teleconference on Aug. 31. “Played extremely well for us last year, had an unfortunate injury that held him back. He would have probably been a starter here this year.
“I’m sure he’s probably going to do really well where he is there at Arkansas. He’s a great competitor and person. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Sanders has recorded 31 tackles, 5.5 sacks, two pass deflections and two forced fumbles for Arkansas this season while playing middle linebacker and lining up at edge rusher as well.
“That was probably what we were going to do, but never worked out,” Saban said. “It is what it is. It’s good for him that he can play both positions and that he’s doing well.
…“Drew was a good player when he was here. Unfortunate injuries. And he’s certainly playing well for them. It’s good to see that he’s doing a good job for them. We’re happy for him and his family.”
Saban also referenced Razorback quarterback KJ Jefferson, who passed for 171 yards and rushed for 105 against the Aggies.
Jefferson has completed 69.1% of his passes for 941 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 274 yards and has at least one touchdown on the ground in each of his team’s four games.
He is averaging 307.7 yards per game total offense a game by himself while Alabama is only allowing an average of 201.2.
“…Big, strong guy, hard to tackle, hard to sack, hard to get on the ground and can push the pile and run over people when he runs quarterback runs,” Saban said.
“..You can’t minimize the effectiveness of this guy as a passer. He’s really, really good, he’s got a strong arm. Throws the deep ball well and they make a lot of explosive plays.”
Saban lauded job Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman has done in revising the Razorbacks, who lost 42-35 in Tuscaloosa last season.
“Sam’s done a great job there, to me,” Saban said. “They play with toughness. They run the ball effectively, stop the run on defense. I mean, their guys play hard. They’ve got a real culture there that shows great intangibles.
“Their defense is good. So this is a really, really good all around team. And it’s going to take great preparation on our part to go on the road and be able to play the way we need to play against a very good SEC team.
Alabama linebacker Henry To’o To’o, who transferred from Tennessee in 2021, knows Jefferson presents a huge challenge.
“KJ Jefferson is definitely a huge piece of the offense,” To’o To’o said. “He’s so explosive. People don’t give him as much recognition as he needs with his arm. He throws the ball so well, he creates so many problems for opposing defenses that you have to prepare for down in and down out for all four quarters.”
Jefferson threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns when Arkansas and Alabama played in 2021.
“He’s definitely a challenge for us. We’re excited about playing him for a second time and we’re ready for the challenge.”