Still rolling: No. 1 Alabama showing improvement at midseason

Still rolling: No. 1 Alabama showing improvement at midseason

October 15th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks during the Southeastern Conference football media days in Hoover, Ala., Thursday, July 18, 2013.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Alabama's Kevin Norwood (83) celebrates in the end zone after catching a 20-yard pass for a touchdown to open the fourth quarter of the Crimson Tide's runaway win Saturday. Top-ranked Alabama continues to roll along.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

TIDE, TAKE THREE

Three tidbits regarding top-ranked Alabama entering Saturday night's game against visiting Arkansas:

• 1. Alabama is 6-0 against the Razorbacks under Nick Saban, winning by an average score of 40-16.

• 2. The Crimson Tide's 668 total yards at Kentucky still fell well short of the program-record 833 amassed in a 77-6 win over Virginia Tech in 1973.

• 3. Alabama has defeated Arkansas 16 times in 23 tries, but the series edge is 13-8 due to NCAA forfeited and vacated games.

Another week. Another four-touchdown favorite in Southeastern Conference play.

Alabama's dominating October is expected to continue Saturday night when the top-ranked Crimson Tide host reeling Arkansas. The Razorbacks are coming off a 52-7 home loss to South Carolina this past weekend, and they lost 52-0 at home to Alabama last season.

"We really don't want to look at those results," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said Monday at his weekly news conference. "We would rather look at technically what they're capable of doing and what they've done well as a team. In the game last week, they still ran the ball effectively. They've had a couple of long runs where they've fumbled the ball at the end of the runs, or else the games might have been completely different.

"We're more concerned about how we play and how we progress and how we improve as a team, and we have total respect for Arkansas' players and what their capabilities are."

Alabama defeated Kentucky 48-7 Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium to improve to 6-0 at the midway mark of the regular season. The Tide have won every game by at least 25 points except for their 49-42 outlasting of Texas A&M in College Station on Sept. 14.

The Tide defense was torched for a school-record 628 yards by the Aggies, and the offense struggled against Virginia Tech and Colorado State. In recent routs of Georgia State and Kentucky, however, both sides of the ball have been highly effective.

"I don't think we've played our best game by any stretch of the imagination, so I think there are a lot of things we can improve on," Saban said. "Obviously we haven't gotten a lot of turnovers on defense, and there are times when we have given up too many big plays on defense. Our offensive line has done a nice job of making steady improvement, and that's something that is going to be critical for continued success as we play better and better defensive teams, especially in the front seven.

"The kicking game has been good for us, but there are a lot of areas there where we can continue to improve. Special teams have been decent so far, but as soon as you don't do something exactly right on special teams, you're vulnerable to giving up a big play."

Arkansas got out to a 3-0 start under first-year coach Bret Bielema at the expense of Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Miss, but the Razorbacks lost at Rutgers on Sept. 21 and have since lost three straight SEC games. Before last week's shellacking in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks went to Florida and were thumped 30-10.

The Razorbacks are led by the tailback tandem of freshman Alex Collins (102.9 yards a game) and Jonathan Williams (80.6). They have not been as effective the past two weeks, getting held to a combined 86 yards against Florida and a combined 130 against South Carolina.

"We feel we'll get their best game," Saban said. "I think they're very well-coached, and I think it's going to take a very good effort on our part, because this is really different from anything that we've played against so far this year in terms of how they run the ball and the heavy formations they get in to do it."

Arkansas will not get its first open date of the season until after Saturday's trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama will represent the fourth preseason top-10 team the Razorbacks will have faced in as many weeks, leaving Bielema with the challenge of keeping his players upbeat.

"I say don't be a Debby Downer," Bielema said Monday at his news conference. "Just because history has happened in the past doesn't mean that it needs to repeat itself. That's an easy way to go. It's an easy, simple way of thinking.

"If you want to get out of these doldrums, if you want to move forward as a person, you take pride in what just happened and realize that when you get beat that way, obviously, you're embarrassed."

Tide tidbits

CBS announced Monday that it will televise Alabama's game against visiting Tennessee on Oct. 26. ... Saban did not have an eligibility status update for junior safety HaHa Clinton-Dix.... Saban on Arkansas defensive tackle Darius Philon, who was committed to the Tide's 2012 class but did not want to delay his enrolling: "We certainly thought a lot of him, and I'm not surprised at all that he is doing extremely well at Arkansas. We would have loved to have had him in our program here, but it didn't work out that way for us." ... Alabama starting center Ryan Kelly, who injured his right knee against Ole Miss and hasn't played since, practiced Monday.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.