Averaging only 25 points per game, the Arkansas defense has been a surprisingly feisty unit so far in 2023 after giving up in the 30s the last few seasons under defensive coordinator Barry Odom. With Odom moving back into the head coaching ranks, the Razorbacks went out and made a sneaky high-potential hire of the young Travis Williams.
A former lineacker for Auburn, Williams was a linebacker and co-DC with Kevin Steele at Auburn in 2016-2020 before getting a full time DC job with Central Florida. The Knights were giving up 33 points per game in 2020, and Williams improved that up to 24 ppg in this two seasons there.
Williams and the Razorbacks run a pretty straight forward defense that takes a lot of cues from the early 2000s Tampa 2 philosophy. They prefer a 4 man rush and a short shell of spot drop zones with an intent of jumping short routes and never being fooled with misdirection. They have 7 interceptions already this season, plus another 4 fumbles recovered. Essentially, while they give up some explosive plays down the field, they make you earn every yard and are extremely opportunistic.
Cornerback Dwight McGlothern led the team in interceptions last year, and enters 2023 as a preseason All-SEC first teamer. He’s already got 2 interceptions this year. On the other side, true freshman Jaylon Braxton was a highly-regarded recruit that’s been thrown into the fire, but has a lot of potential and is flashing early in his career already.
The linebacking duo of Chris Paul and Jaheim Thomas make up one of the better pairs in the league. Thomas played for Cincinnati the last three seasons before transferring to Arkansas this year, and he’s been arguably the best player on the defense. He leads the team with 59 tackles and 3 sacks, and is third on the team with 6 tackles for loss.
Beside him, Chris Paul returns as a steady presence at middle linebacker and has 37 tackles.
Defensive ends Trajan Jeffcoat (transfer from Missouri, All-SEC in 2020) and Landon Jackson (Transfer from LSU in 2021) lead the team with 7 tackles for loss each
According to the Draftkings Sportsbook, Alabama is favored by 20 points in this one with an OU of 47, which equals out to a score of 34-13 in favor of the Tide. I said in my preview of the Arkansas offense yesterday that I could see them getting held to single digits by Alabama’s offense, so I think the 30-35 point range for the Tide’s offense is a pretty decent guess... If anything, I would take the under on this one.
Arkansas’s defense can definitely present some problems. Their penchant for cover 2 zones may give Jalen Milroe some problems if he hasn’t learned from his interceptions against Texas when targeting those quick out routes, and their short area zones should be able to limit the damage from QB scrambles.
On the other hand, there should be plenty of opportunities to get wide receivers matched up 1v1 with safeties going deep, and so Alabama can definitely score points in a hurry that way.
The question will be the run game. The Razorbacks have been fine against the run, but not amazing. And they don’t run too many stunts or gap blitzes, so if Alabama’s OL can win their 1v1 blocks, it should lead to sustained success. That’s a big if, though.
Lets go with a final score of 28-9, Alabama.
The game will on ESPN in the 11:00 am CT time slot this weekend, so you can get started watching it early and then move on to the broader schedule of college football later in the day.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details