The hype surrounding Arkansas’ visit didn’t need much of a push, but Crimson Tide cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick expected coach Nick Saban to be “all crunked up” for practice this week.
“What the players really don’t understand is I really raise more cain on weeks like last week, because the players will be all crunked up this week,” Saban said Monday. “Is that the right terminology? I’m not sure I’m up with the hip-hop terms. So it will be less important for me to be. But last week, it was like trying to get them into the dental chair.”
The history between the two and the stakes create all the necessary intrigue.
Saturday’s game essentially amounts to an early-season SEC West elimination game. The loser will need help making the trip to Atlanta for the conference title game with second-ranked LSU waiting on the back end of both schedules.
Ranked 14th, the Razorbacks (3-0) carry one of the more potent offenses into Bryant-Denny Stadium with extra bitter memories of previous meetings with third-ranked Alabama.
Leading by 13 late in the third quarter in Fayetteville last September, Arkansas committed two costly turnovers that cost the Razorbacks a landmark win. The first Ryan Mallett interception led to Mark Ingram’s game-winning touchdown with 3:18 left and the second sealed 24-20 win for the still top-ranked Tide.
A year earlier, the confidence wasn’t there for Arkansas when it lost 35-7 in Tuscaloosa.
“Even though we were hyped up and acting like we were emotionally ready to play and excited about the opportunity, I think deep down we didn’t think we would win the game,” Petrino said. “You see a lot of people do the same thing against Alabama. You don’t execute and do the same things that you normally do. You drop passes. You over-throw a guy wide open. You trip on a line. You’re out of your comfort zone and you don’t play football the way you can.”
Breezing to blowout wins over Missouri State (51-7) and New Mexico (52-3) this September, Arkansas showed it can survive with Mallett in the NFL. His replacement, Tyler Wilson piled up impressive numbers straight through the first half of last Saturday’s win over Troy. Overall, he’s completing 68.6 percent of his passes and throwing for 274 yards a game.
Consistency, however, dipped in the final 30 minutes across the board when the Razorbacks were outscored by a touchdown to win 38-28. When Wilson “blew his technique” on a second half throw, television cameras caught Petrino blowing a gasket.
“He was way off balance and I just trying to make sure he understood to step, carry the ball high, and throw the ball like he’s supposed to,” Petrino said.
Still, the Razorbacks lead the SEC in most offensive categories playing three teams from well outside the competition level it’ll face the rest of the season. The 47-point scoring average ranks eighth nationally and the 517.3 yards per game is 11th.
That’s more than enough reason for inspiration in the Alabama football complex Monday morning.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower said players arrived early to get a head start in the film room and training rooms.
It’s hard avoiding the importance of the Arkansas game walking through the Alabama weight room.
“They’re showing highlights of Arkansas boys just running over people and doin’ them dirty,” Tide running back Trent Richardson said. “That’s something we have to look forward towards and be prepared, man. We have to go out there today and have the best Monday practice we’ve ever had.”
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star. Follow him on Twitter @UARollTide_Star