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#14 Arkansas vs. #3 Alabama Preview + Free Predictions

#14 Arkansas Razorbacks (3-0) vs #3 Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0)

One of the most exciting clashes of the week takes place in Dixieland this Saturday afternoon, where two unstoppable forces do battle in Tuscaloosa.

Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa AL
Saturday, Sept. 24, 3:30 pm EST
NCAA Odds from Sportsbook.com:
MoneyLine: Arkansas +350, Alabama -450
Spread: Arkansas +12, Alabama -12
Over/Under: 50.5

Arkansas’ offense – which ranks in the Top 10 in the nation in passing and points scored – travels to Alabama in attempt to best coach Nick Saban’s NFL-caliber defensive unit.

NFL-caliber, you say? Am I exaggerating? Well, ’Bama ranks second in the NCAA in total defense, giving up only six points per game on average. Major players like DT Josh Chapman, LBs Dont’a Hightower and Nico Johnson, CBs Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner and S Mark Barron command a defense that is absolutely as stout as they come (all the players just mentioned should be drafted in the NFL before long).  The Tide surrendered less than two touchdowns to Penn State (who are ranked in the Top 25, by the way) and a total of one touchdown in their other two games.

Arkansas has the absurdly high-octane passing attack, but it should be difficult ripping big gainers against Alabama. Hogs QB Tyler Wilson has been excellent to this point, but last week’s game versus Troy was perhaps a bit closer than Arkansas would have liked (38-28); the Hogs’ first two games were two powder-puffy to adequately gauge this team. If there is a secondary anywhere that will rattle Wilson and Arkansas’ fantastic crop of receivers, it is Alabama’s. The Tide have speed, size and athletic range everywhere in the back seven and their 3-4 defensive scheme presents some nightmarish blitzes that will probably terrorize Wilson.

The Razorbacks’ run game has been decent too, but the RB corps has suffered some grave injuries and is currently going with third-stringer Ronnie Wingo (who happens to be very talented) but the visitors have not encountered a defense like this yet. Also, Alabama doesn’t get by on just defense – pivot A.J. McCarron has been smart and conservative and the offense is fueled by a great running game headed by Trent Richardson. Alabama currently ranks 14th in the country in rushing yards per game with 242. [soliloquy id=”82219″]

Arkansas and its fans see itself as a bona fide SEC West contender, this week is the chance to prove it. Alabama is likely the most talented team in the conference (and perhaps the country) from top-to-bottom and the setting of Bryant-Denny Stadium will be jumping for this one, heaving with rabid Tide fans. If Wilson throws a couple INTs under duress, the game could slip through the visiting team’s fingers very quickly. The otherworldly Tide “D” should feed off the energy in Bryant-Denny, so Arkansas getting off to a fast start when it has the ball is crucial.

The second half of last week’s game against Troy was the first time in 2011 that the Arkansas attack struggled – the offense stumbled through four consecutive three-and-outs. This is not a very encouraging sign on the eve of the massive divisional tilt. The offense desperately needs to get back to what it was doing prior to the second half of last game, abusing opposing defenses with both methodical passing and quick strikes. If there is another result similar to last week’s second half, the Hogs won’t get much from the feisty and stingy Tide defense.

More than just the offense, the Hogs defense has to try and figure out a way to slow down Richardson. Sophomore back-up Eddie Lacy also went for a long TD last week, so the Tide have depth and talent in the backfield. If McCarron continues to simply take what’s there and not force the ball, Alabama’s offense should be pretty methodical in its own right.

This is one of the marquee SEC West match-ups in the first half of the season; many football fans will be glued to CBS to watch this one. How Arkansas responds in hostile territory is the key to whether or not they have a chance in this daunting game.

Score Prediction: Alabama 28, Arkansas 17
Over/Under Prediction: 45

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