NCAA Football

College Football Week 4: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

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3:30 PM ET, CBS
Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Laying the scene

Alabama begins its SEC title defense this Saturday against Arkansas, who has already earned a 1-0 conference record following a win over Georgia last Saturday. Arkansas is looking for its first SEC championship in a year that it boasts one of the game's best players, while Alabama is looking for its second national championship in two seasons in a year that it boasts two of the best running backs in the country.

Arkansas needs the win if they hope to beat out 'Bama for the division title at the end of the year and thus earn the right to play for the SEC title. Alabama needs the win with a heavy SEC schedule in the next few weeks that includes a matchup with Florida and a trip to Columbus to take on a strong South Carolina squad.

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Figuring out what each team has to do to come away with the victory isn't rocket science in this one: the stars need to shine and shine brightly. For Arkansas, that means Ryan Mallett needs to be on every inch of his game. For Alabama, that means their two-headed running back needs to be an effective weapon. I could tell you that the Arkansas running game and Alabama passing game are the keys to the win to offset focus on the other element of their respective offenses, and while there's a good deal of truth to that, the ultimate key to victory for each team is clear.

What Alabama has to do to win

The offense will be balanced enough, mind you, but when you have two Heisman-caliber backs ready, willing and able to carry the football, you use them. Greg McElroy put up big numbers in last year's win over the Razorbacks, but it'll be on the ground where the Tide will get it done in Saturday's game. The focus of the Arkansas defense has to be on Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson despite McElroy's success against them last season. Don't think that the passing game won't be an important factor, but if Alabama wants to establish an early momentum, they'll do it on the ground. Also watch out for the Pistol formation when 'Bama has the ball. It's a formation that's worked quite well for them running the ball this year.

As far as the passing game is concerned, McElroy needs to be efficient, effective and productive. He doesn't have to air it out to the tune of 300 yards, but he'll have to complete those short- to mid-range passes to get the Razorbacks defense to respect the passing game so the ground game can breathe.

The Alabama secondary needs to play to its full potential. They're relatively untested and are thrown into the fire with a trip to Fayetteville to square off with Mallett, who is an NFL-caliber quarterback and the only passer to eclipse 1,000 yards so far this season. Meanwhile, an Alabama defensive line that's struggled to sack the quarterback will face off against an Arkansas offensive line that's let up four sacks.

What Arkansas has to do to win

Arkansas was up 17-7 at the half and then 21-10 going into the fourth quarter last weekend in Athens. Give credit to Georgia for climbing their way back into the game, but if Arkansas is going to beat Alabama this weekend, they have to hold on, and hold on tight, to any lead they're able to muster whether it's in the first, second, third or fourth quarter. So what's the key to getting that lead? You know it, I know it and I won't get cute by telling you it's not Ryan Mallett.

The 'Bama secondary is highly ranked thus far, although they've yet to face a passer of Mallett's ability, or an overall passing game on par with that of Arkansas. Establishing an effective ground game is big to set up the play action, but it's obviously the passing game that carries the most weight.

Arkansas boasts a good offensive line and wide receivers who form one of the SEC's top groups of pass catchers. 'Bama's secondary is largely untested, the defensive line has come away with just two sacks in 2010 and the defense has recorded just nine tackles for loss. The Razorbacks need to win the battles they're supposed to win.

Defensively, the key is obvious as well: stop the ground game. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson present one of the best two-headed running backs in the game's history, as both appear to be future first round draft picks. The Razorbacks were able to limit the Tide ground game to 134 yards with Richardson contributing 65 and Ingram 50 last season. McElroy made them pay, though, passing for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Again, keep it simple; while they'll have to be mindful of the passing game, the key for the defense remains putting a stop to the rushing attack.

The call

Alabama. Make no mistake, Arkansas is a phenomenal football team that has the tools to come away with a victory in this one if they do the little things right, don't hurt themselves and are able to expose the Alabama secondary.

If you've watched Crimson Tide football in 2010, though, you know they're the best team in the country. I could spout off a roll call of their playmakers, both offensive and defensive, but by now it's become redundant...and it really doesn't even do justice to the way in which this team performs. The secondary is a bit suspect and will face its first real test of the year, but if they can pass it and the offense plays the way it should, 'Bama walks off with a key SEC road win. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

 

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