Tide's pressure comes in waves
Alabama's defensive depth key against Arkansas' high-powered passing game
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coaches and players watched as Arkansas' high flying Hogs were grounded by an upset-minded Louisiana Monroe team Saturday night in Little Rock, Ark. The usually potent passing attack for the Razorbacks was uncharacteristically inconsistent in what turned out to be the upset of the weekend.
Quarterback Tyler Wilson didn't play in the second half after taking several jarring hits through the first two quarters. Brandon Allen competed in his stead, but Arkansas failed to break the 300-yard mark in passing -- a benchmark it reached five times last season.
Alabama coach Nick Saban praised the Arkansas offense, saying the Tide will face the best quarterback it has seen since, well, Wilson at about this time a year ago. The Tide defense set up in the Arkansas backfield on that day, racking up a sack and four quarterback hurries. By the time it was all said and done, backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell was in the game.
If that storyline sounds familiar, it's because it's nearly a carbon copy of what Louisiana Monroe did Saturday night. The Warhawks had a sack and four quarterback hurries, too.
Regardless of which quarterback is in the game, Alabama is eager to play what linebacker C.J. Mosley dubbed the Tide's "Mind Games." It's equal parts chess match and caveman royal rumble. The defense will match wits as much as it will match the brawn of the Razorbacks offense.
"Pretty much whenever he's checking, more than likely we're going to be checking too," he said. "Most times if we're in a blitz we'll show one thing but actually run another."
Even if Arkansas spreads it out and goes to the shotgun, the defense will continue along the same strategy.
"Sometimes, we'll have the safety coming down but actually he's going to the other side of the field," Mosley explained. "It's just different things like that. It's all a mind game."
That means shifting where the blitz is coming from, if need be. The Tide are determined to get into the backfield and collapse the pocket around Wilson. With the defensive ends coming full bore and a linebacker or two trailing behind, UA plans to stop the passing game from ever getting off the ground.
"One aspect of our game is to affect the quarterback, make him feel less comfortable," linebacker Nico Johnson said. "That's what we tried to do with Denard [Robinson] the first week. We're not going to go at him just because he came off an injury, but we want to affect him in some type of way to create turnovers or something like that."
"It's good," Johnson said of having a stable of pass-rushers. "Keeps them fresh, keeps them going after the quarterback even more. It takes its toll on the offensive line when you've got guys rotating like we do. It helps us out more, too. We don't want a guy in front of us who's dead tired."
Jesse Williams is poised return from injury and start at nose guard alongside Damion Square and Quinton Dial. Backups Jeoffrey Pagan, Ed Stinson and D.J. Pettway will rotate in on the line. Linebackers Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson will bring the speed on the edges as well.
All told, Johnson likes his options.
"Each guy has a specialty," Johnson explained, noting that Williams' specialty is everything. "Adrian Hubbard can rush real well. Square can pretty much do it all. Xzavier, he can rush, he can drop a little bit. They all have their special things, and they bring it to the table week-in, week-out."
Said Mosley: "Basically, it's just a deep rotation. We've got guys that can play different positions. It's like coach said, if you get tired just tap your helmet and we've got guys that can back up and do the same job. Just keep the tempo going in the game."
In sizing up Arkansas, Saban said one of the keys to stopping Wilson and the Razorbacks passing attacks will be using the defensive line and scheming to get into the quarterback's face.
"If we are fortunate enough to be able to create passing situations, probably one of the best ways to play successful pass defense is to affect the quarterback," Saban explained. "If you have good edge rushers and you have good push in the pocket in the middle, the combination of those two things can be very beneficial to affecting the quarterback.
"It will be really important in this game. Adrian and Xzavier both have done a decent job to this point, and I think both are capable of being a factor in terms of pass rush. It's going to be important that they are a factor in this particular game."