Young, No. 2 Alabama face SEC road test at No. 20 Arkansas
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — The last time Arkansas knocked off Alabama, Nick Saban was coaching the Miami Dolphins.
The Razorbacks’ 2006 win over the Crimson Tide came a year prior to Saban taking over at Alabama. Since his arrival, Arkansas has lost 15 straight to its SEC West Division rival, the Hogs’ longest mark against any opponent.
The 20th-ranked Razorbacks will get another crack at ending the streak Saturday when they host No. 2 Alabama.
Saban isn’t overlooking the Razorbacks, despite his success against them. Arkansas had the Crimson Tide on the ropes last year in the fourth quarter in a game Alabama won 42-35.
“Psychologically, I think everyone has to know this is the toughest challenge of the year,” Saban said.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman and his Razorbacks rose to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 prior to a 23-21 loss against Texas A&M last week. The Razorbacks’ Cam Little bounced a field goal off the top of the right upright that would have given them the lead late.
“I see how they lost,” Saban said. “I’m sure they’re very disappointed. I’m sure they’ll be upset with the way the game ended.”
Pittman said for his team to have a chance at winning, it will take fearlessness. He pointed to last year’s close result as reason to believe Arkansas is up for the challenge.
“Bama, they can beat you before you even run out on the field,” Pittman said. “I think what happens when you play somebody close and you start having some belief that you know we got pretty good team … that’s where we’re at now with our football team.”
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young broke a 52-year-old school record by passing for 559 yards against the Razorbacks last year. He faces an Arkansas squad that has given up the sixth-most passing yards per game in the FBS.
“(He has) a lot of confidence in everything he does,” Pittman said of Young. “Whether he’s throwing, whether he’s scrambling, staying in the pocket until the last second — when he gets outside the pocket he just looks comfortable. Like ‘I could run it for a touchdown,’ ‘I can throw it for a touchdown,’ ‘I’m just gonna do kind of whichever one I decide to do.’”
SANDERS FACES OLD TEAM
Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders transferred from Alabama in the offseason and has made his presence felt with the Hogs in tackles for loss (6.5), sacks (5.5) and forced fumbles (2) through four games. Sanders also ranks second in total tackles with 31.
He will get a chance to play his former team Saturday, including his freshman year roommate and star linebacker, Will Anderson Jr.
“I’m very happy for Drew,” Anderson said. “He’s getting what he deserves. He’s been playing extremely well. I’m happy for him, very proud of him.”
The Razorbacks were not happy to drop their Southwest Classic rivalry game against Texas A&M, but Pittman said the team can’t afford to dwell on it.
“I went back and talked to all of our kids Saturday night,” Pittman said. “We have two losses in the last 10 games, but the loss hurts. Some kids were crying. We’re going to flush it out of here in the first half of our meeting, then the second half we will be on to Alabama. We don’t have time to mope.”
TURNING DOWN THE TIDE
While Pittman was coaching the Razorbacks as offensive line coach under Bret Bielema, he turned down an offer from Saban.
“I had just been here about four or five weeks and had been talking with players about loyalty and this and that, and you can’t be hypocritical,” Pittman said. “And my mom told me she didn’t raise a son that would do that. So that ended that conversation.”
ANDERSON JR. UNAFRAID
In what will be Alabama’s first SEC road challenge of 2022, Anderson is not afraid of hostile environments.
“I tell people all the time, the audacity for the other team to even step on the field is disrespectful to me,” Anderson Jr. said. “I think people ask me what motivates me, and I say, ‘The audacity for the fans to show up and for the team to come step on the field and play.’ That’s my own little thing in my head that I do.”
PLAYING THE POLL
Saban’s 96 career wins over AP Top 25 teams is the most in college football history. He is third in true road wins over ranked opponents with 25.
Follow Ethan Westerman on Twitter: twitter.com/EthWestNWA