- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - In the era of wide-open offensive football, even Nick Saban has had to do his defensive homework before facing an Arkansas team whose offensive linemen are almost as well known as the quarterback.

The Alabama coach has spent most of this season preparing to face spread or pass-heavy teams such as West Virginia and Mississippi.

This week, the seventh-ranked Crimson Tide (4-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) will face a Razorbacks team unlike many in today’s world of college football. Led by second-year coach Bret Bielema, Arkansas (3-2, 0-2) plays the game with a style Saban labeled “back to the future.”

Yes, the Razorbacks like to run the ball. More than just that, however, Bielema has them playing a physical style much in the mold of Alabama - one Saban recognizes well and appreciates.

“This is really old-fashioned, hard-nosed, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes kind of football,” Saban said. “That’s something that is going to be different for our players and our preparation. In fact it’s so different (that) during the bye week we spent a day trying to review regular defense that we don’t ever seem to play. But we will play it this week.”

Led by sophomore linemen Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland, Arkansas leads the SEC in rushing this season. The Razorbacks average 316.6 yards per game on the ground, doing so with the punishing style Bielema has preached since he was hired away from Wisconsin following the 2012 season.

The Razorbacks have lost 14 SEC games in a row, but they’ve shown marked improvement after last year’s winless run through the conference. Much of that progress has been the result of improved play by Skipper and Kirkland, along with the play of senior Brey Cook at right tackle and UNLV transfer Sebastian Tretola at left guard.

Despite a crushing overtime loss to Texas A&M; two weeks ago, Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman is confident his group is ready to handle the equally physical style brought by the Crimson Tide defense.

“We know they’ve got a very good defense and always have had since coach Saban’s been there,” Pittman said. “So, we’ll have to figure it out, but we certainly aren’t going in there hoping we can do some things. We’re counting on it.”

The Razorbacks aren’t the only team entering Saturday’s game after a potentially disheartening loss. Alabama was outscored 20-3 in the second half of last week’s 23-17 loss at Mississippi.

That loss came against the wide-open Rebels. Led by sophomore defensive end Jonathan Allen and one of the most physical linebacker collections in the country, the Crimson Tide leads the SEC and is third in the country in allowing only 64 yards rushing per game. It’s exactly the kind of recipe Alabama hopes leads to success against a more traditional offense like Arkansas.

“They like to try to get their hands on you and out-work you and out-muscle you, so we’re definitely going to have our challenges this week to stand up to the challenge going to their house,” Allen said. “I feel like we’re going to be ready for it though.”

The Razorbacks have lost their last two meetings against Alabama by identical 52-0 scores, a point that many Arkansas players have grown weary of being asked about this week. Saturday will show how ready they are to change their recent misfortunes against the Crimson Tide.

“You always know what they’re going to bring, and that’s physicality,” Cook said. “They play a brand of football that’s fun to play against, and we’re excited to go out there. It’s a big test for us.”

___

AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this story.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide