My second installment on al.com’s Blogger Roundtable.
Question 1: What are the key match-ups for Saturday's Alabama-Arkansas game?
The key to Saturday's matchup between Alabama and the visiting Arkansas Razorbacks will come down to how Alabama's secondary matches up to Arkansas' talented wide receivers and how the Arkansas offensive line handles the multiple blitz packages Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have drawn up. The Razorbacks' receiving corps is widely regarded as some of the best in the country. So is the Crimson Tide's secondary. It's going to be a war.
Alabama will have to get pressure on Arkansas sophomore quarterback Tyler Wilson. In last Saturday's game against Troy, Wilson showed youth and inexperience with rushed throws into coverage, giving up a pick-six and throwing errantly on key downs. He's got to make smart throws, get rid of the ball before the pocket collapses and take advantage of receivers in one-on-one coverage.
On the other side of the ball, Alabama needs to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Bama's offensive philosophy depends far less on the QB than Arkansas' does. The linemen are expected to get to the second level and engage linebackers, opening lanes for Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Alabama throws the ball best when it wants to throw, not when it has to throw. Staying ahead of the chains on first and second down are the key.
If Alabama's defense can rattle Wilson and keep him from settling into the pocket, and both Richardson and Lacey have good days running the football, Alabama can beat the Hogs handily. If Wilson gets comfortable throwing the ball and Arkansas somehow bottles up the Tide's TB duo, it's going to be a long day.
Question 2: The wide receiver position is still in flux with the wait for Duron Carter's clearance. What do you expect to see there for the remainder of the season? Will Carter play this year? Can Darius Hanks, Marquis Maze and company carry the load?
The Carter story is puzzling, to say the least. At this point, it's unlikely that he sees the field in a Bama uniform and he ends up taking a redshirt. It's disappointing too, because Carter was expected to shoulder some of the burden carried by Julio Jones last year. Hanks and Maze are both talented, speedy receivers with good hands. Hanks looks like the better receiver and looks like he's blocking a little better than Maze. Recall that one of the strengths Julio brought to the table was his downfield blocking ability on running plays. Bama needs physical receivers who can take it to the DB's and get the runner into the open field.
In passing situations, Alabama likes to spread the ball around. Tight end Michael Williams has been outstanding as a blocker and as a receiver. H-Back Brad Smelley has also performed well. If Arkansas chooses to double Hanks or Maze on deep routes, it's going to leave Smelley or Williams open or in a mismatch against a linebacker. Alabama also likes to throw the ball to the TB coming out of the backfield. It's an offensive system that doesn't rely on one particular position or player to make plays, but to take what the defense is giving and get the ball to whoever the defense can't get to on the play. Having another potential playmaker like Carter would only make it that much easier to do so, but if he's not able to play there are opportunities for other guys.
Look for Alabama to get the ball to freshman DeAndrew White. His teammates had nothing but glowing praise for him during fall camp and he has played sparingly. He played in the opener against Kent State, did not make the field against Penn State and only saw a few snaps against North Texas. Those who think Bama may be "holding something" back for use in bigger games might want to keep an eye on the speedy, sticky-handed receiver.