No. 1 Alabama visits Arkansas, seeking clean finish
Alabama has its sights set in the coming weeks on winning its seventh Southeastern Conference championship and possibly a sixth national crown under coach Nick Saban.
Yet, there’s one last regular-season hurdle to clear for the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide (9-0, 9-0 in SEC), as they travel to take on Arkansas (3-6, 3-6) in Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon.
The Tide, who will play No. 6 Florida on Dec. 19 for the SEC crown, are 31-point favorites and have won 13 consecutive meetings against the Razorbacks.
Alabama will arrive in Fayetteville with the SEC’s highest-scoring offense (49.2 points per game), toughest defense (18.3 ppg) and a plethora of major college football award candidates on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and wide receiver DeVonta Smith — all potential candidates for the Maxwell Award as well as individual awards for each of their respective positions — highlight the offense.
But the backbone of the group has been one of the most consistent offensive lines in college football this season anchored by Outland Trophy semifinalists Landon Dickerson at center and Alex Leatherwood at left tackle. The group has only allowed seven sacks while Jones is playing.
On defense, cornerback Patrick Surtain is a Thorpe Award semifinalist while freshman Malachi Moore leads the team with three interceptions.
“Their offense is incredible,” Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said. “They can do it all. They can run. They can pass protect. They get out on toss sweeps. And their defense is the same as it always has been. Teams are running up-tempo things and getting a few more yards than they have in the past, but they’re outstanding.”
Despite the seemingly lopsided advantage, Saban warned against looking past the Razorbacks, who lead the conference in turnover margin (plus-8) and are tied for the most interceptions (13).
Hudson Clark and Jalen Catalon each have three interceptions for the Razorbacks, but the unit might be without Montaric Brown (6 passes defended, 1 INT), who is dealing with an undisclosed injury, and linebacker Grant Morgan (knee), who leads the nation with 111 total tackles.
“They present some unique challenges with the fastball offense they run,” Saban said. “We need to respect their team. They’re capable of beating anybody and they’ve demonstrated them all year long.”
Arkansas is coming off a heartbreaking, 50-48 loss to Missouri that ended with a Harrison Mevis’ fifth field goal of the game for the Tigers — a 32-yarder as time expired. The Razorbacks let a 14-point fourth quarter lead slip away and gave up 633 total yards, losing the game despite gaining 566 yards on offense and scoring seven touchdowns.
Against Missouri, Razorbacks’ freshman quarterback KJ Jefferson made his first career start with Feleipe Franks out with a rib injury. Jefferson went 18-of-33 passing for 274 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for 32 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts.
Jefferson’s top target was wide receiver Treylon Burks, who caught 10 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown against Missouri and is one of four receivers in the SEC averaging 100 or more yards per game this season.
Jefferson might get another chance with Franks still questionable for Saturday’s game.
–Field Level Media