Pregame analysis of Alabama's home game against Arkansas:
What: Arkansas Razorbacks (2-3, 0-2 SEC) at Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0)
When: 6:15 p.m. Central time, Saturday
Rankings: Alabama is first in The Associated Press poll and coaches’ rankings. Arkansas is unranked. The first set of College Football Playoff rankings won’t be released until Oct. 31.
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Line: Alabama by 30
TV/radio: TV: ESPN; radio: FM-95.5.
1. Focused finish: Nick Saban was irate at his team’s poor finish against Texas A&M, turning what was a 24-3 lead into a 27-19 nailbiter that required the Tide recover a fourth-quarter onside kick to win. Alabama is outscoring opponents 83-9 in the first quarter and 145-26 in the first half. How it plays in the second half is much more important to Saban.
2. Minkah Magic?: After Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin put him in the conversation before the game and the Alabama defensive back grabbed a crucial interception during it, a grassroots Heisman Trophy campaign is underway for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Alabama’s do-it-all defensive back forced a fumble and recorded two tackles for loss against the Aggies. Now he faces an Arkansas team against which he had three interceptions last season.
3. Quarterback quandary: Mired in a miserable start to its season, Arkansas has a quarterback mess. It can either start senior Austin Allen — a trendy preseason All-SEC pick who threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns against the Tide last season — or redshirt freshman Cole Kelley, who has attempted just 18 collegiate passes. Hampered by an injury to his throwing shoulder, Allen said this week all MRIs came back clean and he will attempt to play “if he can.” How effective he’d be, as opposed to a healthy Kelley, remains the most pertinent question.
4. Rushing returns: Take out Damien Harris’ 75-yard touchdown run and Alabama ran for just 157 yards on 43 carries last week, a step back for a rushing offense that still averages more than 300 yards a game. Left guard Ross Pierschbacher placed the blame upon the offensive line which, after film review, saw technical problems with its inside run-blocking. Arkansas, which allows 4.42 yards per carry, permitted Texas A&M to run for 285 yards. South Carolina ran for 159 on 36 carries.
Alabama cornerback Anthony Averett vs. Arkansas wide receiver Jonathan Nance: Nance is one of the conference’s most reliable receivers, catching 22 of the 27 targets thrown his way. He’s caught a touchdown in all five games this season, four of which have been catches of 30 or more yards. His touchdown-to-catch ratio of 21.73 is tops in the conference and Nance is the only conference receiver with two 100-yard performances in league play.
Player of the week
Isaiah Buggs, junior, defensive end, 6-foot-5, 293 pounds: In Da’Shawn Hand’s absence, Buggs played the best game of his short Tide career against Texas A&M. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer had a team-leading 10 tackles — his previous career-high was four. Though Nick Saban lauded Buggs’ progression this week, he reiterated Buggs’ stamina needs work, especially in Hand’s continued absence. Buggs will continue his increased workload Saturday.
By the numbers
13: Arkansas has forced 13 turnovers in its last nine games. Robert Foster’s second-half fumble against Texas A&M was Alabama’s first turnover in 36½ quarters of play.
9,485: Alabama punter JK Scott is tied with P.J. Fitzgerald atop the program’s punt yardage leaderboard with 9,485. One punt against Arkansas will give Scott — the Tide’s four-year starter — sole possession of the program record.
191: Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts has thrown 191 consecutive passes without an interception. It’s the second-longest streak in program history, 100 throws behind AJ McCarron’s streak from 2011-12.
93.1: Arkansas center Frank Ragnow is the nation’s highest graded center at 93.1, according to Pro Football Focus. A preseason All-SEC selection who was named to 11 All-American teams before the season, Ragnow has started 31 straight games for the Razorbacks.
Nick Saban is peeved after Alabama didn’t finish well against Texas A&M, squandering its 21-point second-half lead due to the “rat poison” surrounding his undefeated Tide. Arkansas is facing a quarterback dilemma — forced to choose between an injured senior who’s played well against Alabama and a redshirt freshman who's thrown 18 collegiate passes. Neither option seems savory against a Tide defense that sacked Kellen Mond four times last week and is displaying the depth many feared it wouldn’t have in the preseason.
Alabama 38, Arkansas 3