De­fense fine, as usual; Tide of­fense no slouch

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - TOM MURPHY

FAYETTEVILLE — Typ­i­cally, Alabama’s dom­i­nat­ing de­fense has been the head­line at­trac­tion un­der Coach Nick Sa­ban for the past decade.

But how about that of­fense? Un­der first-year co­or­di­na­tor Brian Daboll, who brought an ex­ten­sive NFL re­sume to Tuscaloosa, the Crim­son Tide are of­fen­sive chart top­pers on many SEC fronts head­ing into Satur­day’s 6:15 p.m. game against the Arkansas Ra­zor­backs.

Alabama leads the SEC in to­tal of­fense with 483 yards

per game, in rush­ing with 301.7 yards per game and in scor­ing with 43 points per game.

That out­put, with quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts han­dling the reins, has helped the Crim­son Tide (6-0, 3-0 SEC) an­chor down at No. 1 in both na­tional polls.

Hurts, a sopho­more with big-play po­ten­tial in both the run and pass games, leads the Tide with 517 rush­ing yards, just ahead of tail­back Damien Har­ris (500 yards) and has 5 rush­ing touch­downs.

He has com­pleted 63.1 per­cent of his passes (70 of 111) be­hind a solid line, and has thrown for 870 yards and 7 touch­downs. Hurts has not thrown an in­ter­cep­tion in his past 8 games, dat­ing back to last year’s Iron Bowl against Auburn.

“They are a very ex­plo­sive of­fense and they’ve got weapons ev­ery­where you turn and it starts with the quar­ter­back,” Arkansas de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Paul Rhoads said, point­ing out that Hurts’ rush­ing yards have not come about strictly on scram­bles. “It’s de­signed quar­ter­back runs and he makes them go.”

Arkansas de­fen­sive end McTelvin Agim noted how Hurts has im­proved since his fresh­man sea­son.

“His arm has got­ten bet­ter,”

Agim said. “He knows when to take off and run with it. He knows when to sit in the pocket bet­ter now. His legs have got­ten bet­ter. He looks like he’s faster this year. … He’s like Joe Cool back there. He’s just calm the whole time.”

Sa­ban said he wanted to see Hurts progress as a passer, and he has de­liv­ered.

“Ob­voiusly we still have room to im­prove,” Sa­ban said. “I’m not talk­ing just about Jalen, but I’m talk­ing about as an over­all team so we have the kind of bal­ance that we need. But he’s been a good de­ci­sion-maker

and played very well, kept his eyes down­field and has made some nice plays in the pass­ing game.”

Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said Daboll has added lay­ers to the Hogs’ de­fen­sive prepa­ra­tion by giv­ing Sa­ban the of­fen­sive bal­ance he craves.

“They’re prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit more tempo,” Bielema said. “Com­pared to a year ago, they have a huge num­ber of dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions that al­low, ob­vi­ously, each game a lit­tle bit more game-plan­ning … so that’s a lit­tle bit of a changeup of­fen­sively that’s pretty glar­ing.”

Arkansas inside lineback­ers coach Ver­non Har­g­reaves said Hurts, 6-2, 218 pounds, is like hav­ing an­other run­ning back.

“It’s big time be­cause you’ve got to tackle a run­ning back and think about tack­ling him too,” Har­g­reaves said. “It makes for a tough day.

“If it looks like it’s go­ing to be a pass that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean it’s go­ing to be a pass. He can beat you and go get a first down. … Our job play­ing be­hind the line is to play the run and the pass, so in ad­di­tion to tack­ling those other big jok­ers out there, we’ve got to tackle him too.”

Hurts has been the cen­ter­piece for Alabama, but play­mak­ers abound for Daboll, who is Sa­ban’s sixth of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in his ten­ure with the Tide, fol­low­ing

Ma­jor Applewhite (2007), Jim McEl­wain (2008-2011), Doug Nuss­meier (2012-2013), Lane Kif­fin (2014-2016), and Steve Sark­isian, who co­or­di­nated the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off ti­tle game last year.

Damien Har­ris, Bo Scar­brough and Na­jee Har­ris pro­vide the Tide with three hardto-tackle backs.

Har­ris, 221 pounds, av­er­ages 8.5 yards per carry and has scored 7 touch­downs.

Scar­brough, 6-2, 235, av­er­ages 4.5 yards per carry on his 294 rush­ing yards and 4 touch­downs.

Fresh­man Na­jee Har­ris checks in at 6-2, 227, and has rushed for 199 yards and 1 touch­down while av­er­ag­ing 5.4 yards per carry.

“I think they’re a run-first team,” Arkansas nose guard Bi­jhon Jack­son said. “We’ve just got to, when it comes to the run, stay where we’re sup­posed to be, stay in our gaps and up front we’ve just got to knock those guys back.”

Arkansas’ de­fense is No. 59 against the run (149 yards per game), and has al­lowed 8 rush­ing touch­downs, a 21 TD pace, which is a ma­jor im­prove­ment over last fall, when it per­mit­ted a school-record 39 rush­ing touch­downs.

Op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs had scored 6 rush­ing touch­downs on the Hogs through 5 games in 2016, and the fig­ure is at 1 — by New Mex­ico State’s Tyler Rogers.

Rhoads wasn’t happy with the de­fense’s tack­ling and yards al­lowed af­ter con­tact last week in a 48-22 loss at South Carolina, an item that had not been a big is­sue early in the sea­son.

“We had three games that we re­ally tack­led well this sea­son,” Rhoads said. “We did not tackle well on Satur­day.”

Alabama’s of­fen­sive tal­ent ex­tends to the tight ends and wide re­ceivers, where Calvin Ri­d­ley is the stand­out, but many younger play­ers are de­vel­op­ing.

Ri­d­ley, a 6-1 ju­nior, caught the go-ahead 81-yard touch­down pass late in the third quar­ter against Arkansas at Bryant-Denny Sta­dium in a 2714 Alabama vic­tory two years ago. Ri­d­ley has 29 catches for 390 yards and 2 touch­downs against Arkansas.

Robert Fos­ter, Cam Sims and Jerry Jeudy have emerged as play­mak­ers, along with tight ends Hale Hent­ges and Irv Smith Jr.

“Calvin Ri­d­ley is as good a player as we’ll see all sea­son long,” Rhoads said. “He’s ex­plo­sive. He’s fast. He’s dy­namic. He’s go­ing to carry it. He’s go­ing to catch it. He’s go­ing to catch it ver­ti­cally. He’s go­ing to catch it un­der­neath.

“The rest of the re­ceiv­ing corps is equally blessed with tal­ent and abil­ity to get open. I think they do a nice com­bi­na­tion with their tight ends as far as run and pass game.”


Alabama sopho­more quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts (2) leads an ex­plo­sive of­fense that tops the SEC in yards per game (483), rush­ing yards per game (301.7) and points per game (43).

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