It looked so promising at the half, didn’t it?
Look, the box score doesn’t really match the scoreboard for this one. Alabama really did dominate the action, gaining 6.6 yards per play vs only 4.2 for Arkansas. Total yards were 415 to 250 in favor of the Tide, and while the Alabama offense wasn’t terribly good on third down at 42% conversion, the defense held Arkansas to only 28%. Penalties were key in the game but there were only 7 total accepted flags, 5 on Alabama. Honestly, it’s tough to look at the box score itself and figure how the game was so close. There isn’t an appreciable difference in the kicking or punting stats, either.
What this means, of course, is that Alabama made some plays in the game but made enough bad plays to squander scoring opportunities while Arkansas took full advantage of every opportunity they got. Everyone including Saban is pointing to the third down facemask call on Jaylen Key as the turning point in the action. I don’t know what will happen with Key this week and going forward, but I don’t remember Saban calling out a player by name in the postgame without being prompted, as he did with Key. He was clearly livid about that play.
To the Hogs’ credit, they took that opportunity and immediately put the ball in the end zone. They were of course aided by a pass interference call on Terrion Arnold, as Arkansas took advantage of the underthrown ball hack in man coverage. Something really needs to be done about the way that play is called, but we’ve been saying that for years.
As far as initial impressions go, the first has to be that the running game looked substantially better than last week. Arkansas isn’t terribly strong as a rushing defense and Alabama was able to take advantage with 211 sack adjusted rushing yards. Alabama’s running backs gained a robust 202 yards on 27 carries. for 7.8 a pop. That success was refreshing to see. Jam Miller and Justice Haynes got a little run in this one, and both played well. Miller in particular showed a little extra burst in getting around the edge that Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams don’t seem to have. Jase and Roydell gained plenty of tough yards, though.
Notice I talked about the sack adjusted rushing yards.
Some of it falls on Milroe’s pocket presence which is still very much a work in progress, but this team continues to take sacks at an alarming rate. Left tackle was a big problem in this one, as neither Kaden Proctor nor Elijah Pritchett were able to stop Arkansas edge rusher Landon Jackson. This sack in particular highlights all of the problems.
Landon Jackson is having a career day pic.twitter.com/BBrfnjDwxu— Arkansas Razorback Football (@RazorbackFB) October 14, 2023
Make no mistake, Proctor lost that rep. It was a good move by Jackson, and he got around the behemoth tackle pretty quickly. He did have to take a fairly wide path, however, and Proctor did show off the athleticism that made him a five star. Had Milroe stepped up into the cleanest pocket imaginable, then Proctor’s recovery that sent Jackson flying right into Jalen would have allowed more than enough time to deliver the ball down the field. This is just an area of his game that will have to continue to progress, and this play will undoubtedly come up in this week’s film study. Milroe has done his best work from the pocket this year and must resist the urge to bail on clean pockets. The best scrambling yards are in front of you, Jalen.
It’s tough to pun much on the defense in this one. Outside of the two big flags on the one scoring drive, Arkansas earned every point and yard they got. Saban mentioned KJ Jefferson shaking off Terrion Arnold to extend a play and find a wide open receiver downfield, and it was phenomenal. If there is a criticism to be made there, it was that nobody was able to come help Terrion when there should have been enough time for help to arrive, and someone (likely Deontae Lawson) left his man in effort to help. It almost reminded of Vinnie Sunseri leaving Texas A&M receiver John Swope in the back of the end zone when Johnny Manziel lost control of the ball in 2012.
Alabama’s pass rush continues to be ferocious. Tim Keenan III and Justin Eboigbe have been revelations this season alongside Jaheim Oatis up front, and Dallas Turner has been a problem for everyone on the schedule as expected. Jefferson was sacked four times and held to only 150 passing yards. The second and final touchdown pass should have been a clear flag for offensive pass interference as Deontae Lawson was flat-out blocked downfield in man coverage, but the ball wouldn’t have been down there to begin with if not for Jefferson’s aforementioned heroics earlier in the drive.
Special teams were mostly uneventful in this one. Alabama’s kickers are as steady as it gets.
In some ways, this might be the perfect outcome for this team. Film study will show the ability to be dominant when they execute, and the ability to lose when they don’t. If we have the right guys on the roster, that will provide both confidence and focus. As we’ve said all year, this team can beat anyone in the country and also lose to multiple teams on the schedule, depending on how they play that day.
As of now, they remain atop the SEC West and still have all of their goals in front of them. Next week Tennessee rolls into town for what should be another entertaining affair.