By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas improving off its 44-10 embarrassing non-conference home loss to North Texas in ensuing 34-3 and 24-17 SEC losses against heavily favored Auburn and Texas A&M mark one thing.
Arkansas’ remote prospects of upsetting Alabama today mark quite another.
Addressing the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club earlier this week, Gene Chizik, the former Auburn head coach and current ESPN college football analyst, explained the difference between hopeful and hopeless.
Hopeless seems the consensus regarding prospects for the 35-point underdog Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2) achieving a victory in today’s 11 a.m. ESPN televised SEC West game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Under coach Nick Saban, Alabama’s Crimson Tide has won five national championships, including the 2017 national title. This Tide (5-0, 2-0) rolls better than any of Saban’s championships, critics including and especially Chizik assert.
That’s why Chizik stressed Arkansas fans should not measure their Hogs by Saturday’s final score. Just see if some aspects build off recent hope.
Remember, Chizik said, hope from the North Texas ashes stoked by their defensive effort and quarterback Ty Storey’s grit at Auburn despite Arkansas’ special teams woes exacerbating a contested game into Auburn by 31.
And by all means remember against the offensively explosive Texas A&M Aggies that Arkansas rallied from down 17-0 to be down 24-17 with the ball before A&M stopped the upset bid intercepting a Storey pass.
“It was an amazing, amazing feat of guys digging their cleats in and saying, ‘No!’” Chizik said. “Next thing you look up in the fourth quarter, and it’s a one-possession game with a chance to win at the end.”
Then he popped Arkansas’ balloon.
“Now the downside is you have absolutely no chance of that happening this week,” Chizik said. “No offense, but I’m an analyst. I’ve got to tell it the way I see it.”
It’s about impossible to see it any other way. Name the category other than place-kicking and Alabama rises nationally at or near its top.
With 18 sacks and 16 interceptions, Alabama looms so defensively dangerously relentless that a three-and-out and punting on fourth-and-10 almost qualifies as an opponent’s offensive moral victory.
On special teams, Alabama has returned two touchdowns, one each from its kickoff return and punt return teams.
Bad news for Arkansas having already been burned twice on kick return touchdowns and one punt return touchdown.
Offensively, Saban always sports an offensive line and backs and receivers rolling the Tide along while on an assembly line to the NFL.
And instead of his usual very good in his system quarterback like Jalen Hurts, 26-2 as a starter including on last year’s national championship team and very good as this season’s backup, completing 26-of-37 for 394 yards and five touchdowns with a lone interception, Saban has a great one.
Tua Tagovailoa already is projected first-round NFL coveted when he’s draft eligible after the 2019 season.
A 2017 freshman, Tagovailoa came off the bench and rescued Alabama in its national championship victory over Georgia and hasn’t looked back.
Starting every game, but never playing in the fourth quarter with the Tide so handily ahead in its 51-14, 57-7, 62-7, 45-23 and 56-14 routs over Louisville, Arkansas State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Louisiana-Lafayette, Tagovailoa completes an astounding 75 percent of his passes at 66-of-88 for 1,161 yards. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns against zero picks and averages 5.8 yards rushing.
So what is first-year coach Chad Morris to do swinging a short stick off an inherited 4-8, 1-7 SEC 2017 team under Bret Bielema with personnel mostly suited offensively to Bielema’s system rather than Morris’ spread offense?
Do what Morris is doing.
Give the Tide its props then go on about your own team, from impressing visiting recruits with today’s turnout and game day atmosphere to instilling in your players it’s their opportunity to measure themselves against the best.
“We embrace the opportunity and look forward to the challenge that we have ahead of us,” Morris said. “We are playing the No. 1 team in the country. They are the standard. They do what they do and do it at a very high level.”
The challenge, Morris said, is for Arkansas to “make this about Arkansas” and for the Razorbacks to reach higher and higher.
The Razorbacks are higher than they were, Saban, never complacent, warns his Tide.
“We have a lot of respect for Arkansas.” Saban said. “They’ve really gotten better and better as the year’s gone on and played a really good game last week against Texas A&M. They’re starting to settle in and looking like a good football team. We definitely need to be ready and our players have to play to our standard if they’re going to be able to help us play to a level that you need to play on the road in this league.”
It would brighten Arkansas’ nearly nonexistent hope if Saban and the Tide completely overlooked what awaits.
Seems he never does.