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Tide Avoids Upset Bug, Plays Complete Game

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T.J. Yeldon and Alabama played a much cleaner game against Arkansas with no penalties, no turnovers and no points allowed. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.
T.J. Yeldon and Alabama played a much cleaner game against Arkansas with no penalties, no turnovers and no points allowed. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

Could No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0) avoid the ‘upset bug’ that plagued the top SEC teams in the most bizarre day in history of the SEC? Could HaHa Clinton-Dix contribute immediately upon his return from suspension? Would the offense continue to build on the improvement of the last three weeks? Let’s examine five takeaways from Alabama’s 52-0 rout of Arkansas:

Could Alabama Play A Complete Game?

On one of the most bizarre days in SEC football history when No. 6 LSU, No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 15 Georgia, and No. 22 Florida all lost, the Tide avoided the same fate. Perfect games are not possible for Nick Saban-coached teams, but this game may have come close. No sacks, no penalties, no turnovers, and no points allowed. Alabama improved in all phases of the game, dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage, and cleaned up a lot of sloppy play from last week’s pasting of Kentucky. 

How Would The Tide Perform Against Strong Running Game?

The Tide defense held talented backs Alex Collins (18 carries, 77 yards) and Jonathan Williams (13 for 48) to modest days. After giving up 42 points to Texas A&M the second game of the season, Alabama now leads in the NCAA in points allowed with only 9.7 per game. In six games (excluding Texas A&M) Alabama only gave up two touchdowns.

The Tide defense has given up 16 total points in the last five games, including two shutouts (25-0 against Ole Miss). In the last two years, Alabama has beaten Arkansas by a combined score of 104-0.

Once again, C.J. Mosley led the Alabama defense with 10 total tackles. Mosley has 58 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and three pass breakups on the season. The ‘ground-and-pound’ Razorbacks attack allowed the Tide to play its base defense the majority of the game instead of the nickel-and-dime alignment used against no-huddle, up-tempo offenses.

Would The Arkansas Defensive Front Provide The Biggest Challenge Since Virginia Tech?

Arkansas (3-5, 0-4) defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers (a Huntsville, Ala. native) are two of the top defensive ends in the SEC. Both finished the game without a sack or quarterback hurry. The Alabama offensive line paved the way for a season-high 352 rushing yards (9.1 yards per carry).

The offensive line did an excellent job of getting to the second level and blocking the Arkansas linebackers. When the linebackers did run free, Alabama running backs T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake ran over them. Yeldon rushed for 88 yards on 12 carries and Drake raced for 104 yards on eight carries to increase his season average to 8.2 yards per carry. Freshman phenom Derrick Henry added 111 yards on only six carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run.

“Chunk plays” or “explosive plays,” plays that gain 20 yards or more, continue to increase on the season. The Tide had eight, including Henry’s long touchdown run.

AJ McCarron had another efficient game, completing 15 of 21 pass attempts for 180 yards and three touchdowns. Eight receivers caught passes. Amari Cooper continues to recover from his sophomore slump, catching three passes for 65 yards and his first touchdown of the year.

Would Special Teams Continue To Be Special?

Special teams have been the most consistent unit on the team. The Alabama kick coverage unit plays extremely well. Dee Hart made a tackle at the 10-yard line after Alabama surged ahead 21-0. Deion Belue blocked a field goal to preserve a shutout, one of Arkansas’ few scoring opportunities. On the opening second-half kickoff return, Derrick Henry caused a fumble and Eddie Jackson recovered it. Cody Mandell had one punt for 51 yards, which Alabama downed at the 1-yard line. Cade Foster made a 48-yard field goal to improve to 8 of 9 on the season.

How Much Could Vinnie Sunseri’s Injury Impact The Defense?

Sunseri sustained a left knee injury when he was hurt on kickoff coverage after Alabama's second touchdown and did not return. Sunseri is quarterback of the secondary, lining up several of the freshman defensive backs. He's scored two defensive touchdowns this season.

Bradley Sylve incurred a high ankle sprain, leaving his status in doubt for next week's game against Tennessee. The cornerback position opposite Deion Belue has been in constant flux this season. Cyrus Jones' second interception of the season means he could be seeing extending playing time against the Vols. Jackson, who is also battling an ankle injury, senior John Fulton and freshman Maurice Smith are the other candidates for cornerback. Landon Collins' continued development at safety is a plus, but Sunseri’s leadership and play-making prowess will be missed if he can't play.

Clinton-Dix’s return to the lineup was accelerated with Sunseri’s injury. He picked up where he left off after the two-game suspension, intercepting a deflected pass. Clinton-Dix will now take on Sunseri’s role of making sure the freshmen are in the proper formation.

Up Next: vs. Tennessee, 2:30 p.m. CT at Bryant-Denny Stadium (CBS)