BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
There may be a much better chance of a partial solar eclipse happening Saturday than Arkansas breaking a 16-game losing streak to Alabama, but rest assured Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban is preparing for both.
Saban was told last Thursday by Alabama meteorlogist James Spann on his “Hey Coach and the Nick Saban Show” that a partial solar eclipse is indeed scheduled for this Saturday at 12:18 p.m.
That would be during the first half of the 11 a.m. game between No. 11 Alabama (5-1, 3-0) and unranked Arkansas (2-4, 0-3), who will bring a four-game losing streak to Tuscaloosa.
“This is a new one on me,” Saban said. “I didn’t know that, and I’ve never had to deal with that, honestly, in my entire coaching career. So you may have to coach me up on how to handle this distraction.”
In case of the eclipse, it’s don’t look up at it without proper eye protection to prevent “eclipse blindness” — or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy.
In case of Arkansas, it’s Alabama not looking back to last Saturday’s 26-20 win at Texas A&M or ahead of this weekend’s game with the struggling Razorbacks to next week’s revenge game with Tennessee.
“The biggest thing we want to focus on is to build on the positives of the good things our team did in the last game — competitive spirit, did a lot of good things in terms of being able to pass the ball effectively, make some explosive plays, defense did a pretty good job for the most part,” Saban said.
”So, obviously, there’s things we need to work on, and we want to be positive about how we fix those things in the future so we can continue to progress as a team.”
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman’s squad is led by senior quarterback KJ Jefferson, but has struggled offensively this season after having one of the nation’s best rushing attacks last season.
The Razorbacks have not beaten the Crimson Tide since a 24-23 double-overtime win in Fayetteville on
Sept. 23, 2006.
“Arkansas is really a good team,” Saban said. “They’ve had some really tough games, some really close losses. But they’ve scored a lot of points. KJ Jefferson is a really good, big-time quarterback — big guy, hard to sack, can run, very talented arm. (Pittman) does a great job with these guys with their ability to run the ball, whether it’s quarterback runs or whatever.
“They play very aggressively and very well on defense. They’ve got good specialists. A really good kicker. They’ve got a good running back. I mean, this is a good team.
“I don’t think we should be looking at their record and making any kind of judgments on what they’re capable of, because they’re capable of scoring points and they’re capable of playing really good defense. And they’re a very well-coached team.”
Saban was asked about the differences in the Arkansas offense under new coordinator Dan Enos, who took over for Kendal Briles, who is now at TCU.
“Not a whole lot,” Saban said. “They have a really good system, really good scheme. I think they do a good job of utilizing the players that they have. The quarterback runs are always something that adds another layer of focus is that you have to be concerned about on defense which they’re really, really good at.
“They hit great play-action passes, they can throw the ball downfield and make explosive plays. There’s not a whole lot of difference between what they’ve done in the past and what they’re doing now. Some little thing but they’ve been very productive on offense. We’re gonna have to play very, very well.”
Alabama has won a trio games in a row since a 34-24 loss at home to Texas with quarterback Jalen Milroe throwing for a career high 321 yards and three touchdowns against the Aggies.
Milroe opened the season as a starter before being benched in game two against South Florida. He has rebounded with six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) and two interceptions in the last three games.
Saban said the Texas native is doing better at putting bad plays behind him quickly.
“You cannot allow one play to affect the next play,” Saban said. “And that’s something he’s learned and is doing a lot better, staying much more positive on the sidelines, communicating well with his teammates and coaches in terms of what he saw, what he didn’t see, what he needs to do to get it corrected. So that’s something that comes a little bit with experience. But I also think it comes with awareness, and I think we’re making good progress in both areas.”
Both teams struggled running the ball last week as Alabama rushed 26 times for just 23 yards against Texas A&M and Arkansas just 36 yards on 29 carries against Ole Miss.
Saban gave Texas A&M credit and his team blame for its struggles.
“I think it was a combination of both,” Saban said. “I think that we miss ID’d some plays in terms of who we were blocking and where we’re going to. I think we missed some things on some of their stunts and pressures.
“They’re front seven is really good. We had some other plays that if we finished blocks we would have much more productive plays. So we got to do a better job of finishing. We also knew going into the game it was going to be tough-sledding up front. We were gonna have to be able to throw the ball effectively. I was really pleased with that part of it. We still gotta work on protections and how we protect the quarterback.”
Both teams have been plagued by penalties this season with Arkansas having 46 miscues for 384 yards this season and Alabama 43 mistakes for 343 negative yards.
The Crimson Tide had 14 penalties for 99 yards versus the host Aggies while the Razorbacks had 10 for 70 yards against the Rebels.
“Well, we had nine pre-snap penalties in the (Texas A&M) game, and I think a lot of those were created by the fact that we had trouble clapping in the game because of the noise,” Saban said. “So we went on silent, and when we went on silent, the guard taps the center. And as soon as the guard tapped the center, they’d stem and move the front — which is not illegal. It was perfectly a good thing for them to do on their part. And we had numerous times where guys flinched. Because, when you go on silent, there is no snap count.”
Just as Pittman said at his Monday press conference, Saban believes the opposing crowd added to his team’s woes.
“One of the advantages of playing offense is you know what the snap count is,” Saban said. “So you know when you get off the ball. Well, when it’s so noisy and you have to go on silent, you lose that advantage. And if we’re going to do that in the future, we obviously need to practice it more so our players don’t get spooked by a moving defense because everybody’s got to sort of go on the ball.
“So we had 14 penalties in the game. Nine of them were pre-snap, false start penalties. So, are they correctable? Absolutely. How much was created by the atmosphere and environment and our choice to try to go on silent. That became a little bit of a problem for us in the game.”