Arkansas to measure its progress against new-look Alabama
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) If Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had a kindred spirit of sorts who he modeled the Razorbacks after when entering the Southeastern Conference, it was Alabama and coach Nick Saban.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0 SEC) might not look like Bielema's pro-style offense quite as much anymore, but its success is still the standard by which the Razorbacks and the rest of the SEC measure themselves.
It's a standard No. 16 Arkansas (4-1, 0-1 SEC) - loser of nine straight to the Crimson Tide - would like to meet for a change when it hosts the defending national champion on Saturday night. And it hopes to do so using the style of power offense Alabama has used less and less of in recent years.
''From a defensive point of view, it's kind of a whole new preparation,'' Bielema said about Alabama. ''In recruiting, we used to compete with them quite a bit in pro-style offense settings and they don't look like that now. Alabama's in the Spread market now.''
Regardless of the style of offense used by the Crimson Tide these days, the results have remained constant during the Saban era.
This season is no different, and Alabama's 17-game winning streak is currently the longest in the nation and the second longest under Saban - trailing only a 19-game stretch over the 2009-10 seasons. It's a streak that will be put to the test over the next three weeks with games against No. 9 Tennessee and No. 8 Texas A&M on deck, one that begins with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas enters the game with the SEC's most efficient quarterback in junior Austin Allen, but it has stayed true to Bielema's traditional offensive approach - foregoing the hurry-up style that has taken over much of college football.
It's a welcomed breather on defense for Alabama defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson.
''I'm glad it's not fast ball because as a defensive lineman, you like the slower teams so you get time to recover and just play old football, just like the old days,'' Tomlinson said.
Some other things to watch as Arkansas tries to end its nine-game losing streak to the mighty Crimson Tide:
STOPPING HURTS: The Razorbacks have struggled in defending the running of quarterbacks like Texas A&M's Trevor Knight. Now, they face freshman Jalen Hurts , the Tide's No. 2 rusher with 276 yards and three touchdowns. Bielema expects offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to continue using Hurts' running ability. ''As we all know, Lane is a very creative, very good play caller, and I think they're using his strengths as good as anybody I've witnessed this year on film,'' the Razorbacks coach said. ''He's a very talented player that's getting used in all the right ways, and he's got some good players around him.''
RAGNOW'S STATUS: Arkansas starting center Frank Ragnow missed much of practice this week after flying home to Minnesota last weekend following the death of his father. However, the junior returned to the Razorbacks on Thursday night and is likely to play on Saturday night.
HEALTHY AGAIN: It appears likely that Alabama will have tailback Damien Harris and wide receiver ArDarius Stewart back. Harris, the leading rusher, was limited against Kentucky with a sprained right ankle. Stewart has missed the past two games with a knee injury after totaling 203 receiving yards in the first two games. He returned to practice this week.
HATCHER'S HAMMY: Arkansas wide receiver Keon Hatcher missed last week's win over Alcorn State with a hamstring injury, but Bielema is hopeful the senior will be able to return on Saturday. Hatcher missed most of last season with a broken foot, but he's returned to form this season - with 14 catches for 281 yards and three touchdowns in four games.
N-O-T AGAIN: Alabama has already scored seven non-offensive touchdowns in five games, and that knack proved huge in the Tide's only other road game, against Mississippi. That's two on interception returns, three on fumble returns and two on punt returns. Safety Eddie Jackson has returned a punt and an interception all the way.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.