#2 Alabama (4-0) faces #20 Arkansas (3-1) in a battle between ranked SEC teams. The Tide enter this matchup on a high note after embarrassing unranked Vanderbilt 55-3.
Arkansas seeks redemption after a brutal 23-21 loss to Texas A&M that included a missed field goal and fumble at the goal line returned for an A&M touchdown.
Can Arkansas prevail and completely rejuvenate their playoff hopes? Their odds to do so are found below, as well as picks, predictions, and key matchups.
Alabama vs. Arkansas Odds
Although they enter this contest as a ranked 3-1 squad, the spread sits at +17 Arkansas. It was at +16.5 before crossing the important 17-point threshold. Their moneyline is around +600, which is reasonable considering the opponent. The over under resides at 61 total points – one of the larger marks this week.
Alabama vs. Arkansas Prediction & Pick
As long as it stays below -17.5, taking Alabama to cover is desirable. They are a terrifying matchup for Arkansas because they have the tools to neutralize Arkansas’ strengths while exploiting their weaknesses.
At a fundamental level, Arkansas’ offense is built on the run game. Raheim Sanders, KJ Jefferson, and the offensive line love to grind out yards in a physical matchup. Once defenses respond by loading the box, Arkansas then takes medium to deep shots down the field.
However, Alabama possesses the best run defense in the nation. They are allowing a stingy 62.5 rush yards per game and 1.8 yards per attempt. As a team, they have 79 run play tackling stops compared to only 16 run play missed tackles (per PFF).
Their massive defensive line holds their ground and doesn’t allow any push from opposing offensive lines. LB To’oTo’o, Moody, and Lawson have a combined 27 run play stops compared to only 4 run play missed tackles. What separates Alabama from other top run defenses is the tackling ability of their secondary. Hellams, Battle, Branch, Arnold, and Kool-Aid are excellent at reading the run and tackling in space.
This defense managed to hold Texas RB Bijan Robinson – the most talented back in the nation – to a mere 57 yards on 21 attempts. Look for Arkansas to struggle mightily running the ball, which will completely disrupt their offense. When they failed to generate points against A&M, it was on drives where the run game was anemic.
In addition, it’s worth noting that KJ Jefferson already has 5 fumbles. Arkansas cannot afford to turn the ball over against this talented, disciplined Alabama squad.
Meanwhile, Arkansas’ defensive deficiencies forecast an efficient day for Alabama’s offense. Out of 131 teams, Arkansas ranks 121st in overall tackling (per PFF). They have 94 stops compared to 54 missed tackles (Alabama is at 108 and 26). Can they handle the elusiveness of RB Jahmyr Gibbs and Jase McClellan?
Their weak pass coverage (115th of 131) also doesn’t bode well for Arkansas. Although Alabama doesn’t possess their usual receiver talent, they are good enough to burn the Razorbacks, especially with Bryce Young throwing the ball. WR Ja’Corey Brooks – hero of last year’s Iron Bowl – broke out last week against Vanderbilt. He will be the deep threat that Arkansas has to constantly worry about.
Does Arkansas have positives? Absolutely. Alabama has been susceptible to running quarterbacks in the past, and the Razorbacks offensive line is extremely strong in pass protection and run blocking. However, the defense isn’t ready for Alabama, and their offense is a concern if they cannot run the ball.
Alabama vs. Arkansas Key Matchups
Can Arkansas’ vaunted offensive line hold up? Will Jahmyr Gibbs force plenty of missed tackles? Their key matchups are found below.
Arkansas Offensive Line vs. Alabama Defensive Line
Of 131 teams, the Razorbacks rank 4th in pass blocking and 2nd in run blocking (per PFF). As a unit, they have allowed merely one sack and 17 hurries across four games. However, Will Anderson (6 sacks) is the best pass rusher in the nation and a likely top 3 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s a game-wrecker who can turn any offensive tackle into a traffic cone. Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell are also efficient pass rushers who pose a serious threat.
If Alabama dominates this matchup, then it’s unclear how Arkansas can effectively move the ball down the field to compete with Bryce Young. It’s absolutely essential that the Razorbacks control the line of scrimmage.
Will Anderson Jr. • @AlabamaFTBL
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) September 26, 2022
RB Jahmyr Gibbs vs. LB Bumper Pool & Drew Sanders
Of the 237 running backs with at least 25 rush attempts, Gibbs ranks 11th in PFF’s Elusive Rating. He also has 17 receptions and is currently averaging 11.8 yards after the catch per reception. Pool and Sanders will often be asked to wrap up the shifty back without any assistance.
I am not terribly concerned with Pool, who is a strong run defender. However, Sanders has 6 stops and 5 missed tackles, which is a terrible ratio. Arkansas’ defense cannot afford missed tackles in this matchup, but Sanders will be the likely culprit.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 25, 2022