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September 8, 2012

ANALYSIS: Many lessons to be learned

TUSCALOOSA | John L. Smith will find something.

That's what coaches do.

The interim Arkansas coach will sit with his staff and pore through all eight quarters of 2012 University of Alabama football and find something to latch onto, something on both offense and defense to hang his game plan on for next week's nationally televised SEC West showdown.

The question is, what?

Alabama disposed of visiting Western Kentucky 35-0 on Saturday, methodically exercising one of the most powerful muscles in college football. It has controlled and handily won both its games to date by a combined score of 76-14. In the turnover category, Alabama has forced seven and given away only one, and has shown a variety of offensive formations from its usual one-back set, to the I-formation, to the Pistol and more. Trick plays? The next one new UA offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier calls will be the first.

But that doesn't mean Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes doesn't have anything to pin a plan to.
Among the concerns UA coach Nick Saban expressed Saturday was Alabama's pass protection of quarterback AJ McCarron. Western Kentucky's aggressive 4-3 defense recorded six sacks, most from the outside of the pocket, where tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker are charged with blocking the opposition's top pass rushers.

"Coach Taggart and his staff do a really good job with a lot of pressure with their defense. A lot of stunts, trying to give you bad plays," Saban said. "We had far too many negative plays on offense that really hurt us."

Alabama's offense remains unpredictable in terms of ball distribution. There is not one running back or wide receiver on whom the Crimson Tide appears forced to lean on to move the football. Yet an assortment of backs and receivers has had a significant hand in Alabama's offensive success.

Defensively, the Crimson Tide seems a bit more difficult for Arkansas to draw a bead on. Saban noted the Alabama defense prevented the big play against the Hilltoppers. After allowing two long passes against Michigan a week earlier, the Crimson Tide defense allowed only one play of 20 or more yards on Saturday.

WKU rushed for only 46 yards for the day and, for the most part, Alabama forced the Hilltoppers to earn every yard they picked up.

This without a full complement of starters.

Nose guard Jesse Williams and defensive back Dee Milliner did not play Saturday, giving the Razorbacks coaching staff a more extensive look at reserve personnel Nick Perry, John Fulton and Brandon Ivory. But seeing them and exposing them are two entirely different challenges. And Western Kentucky did nothing Saturday to suggest that any of the three - if called on again in Fayetteville - are easy prey.

"Brandon did a pretty good job in the middle," Saban said of Ivory. "We were a little soft on the run at times, but we need to work on that (as a team) as well."

In terms of defensive calls, Alabama hasn't shown much intricate blitzing or risk-taking. Whatever defensive tricks are at the disposal of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, they remain up his sleeve and presumably at the ready for the Razorbacks.

"Arkansas is a great team," defensive end Damion Square said. "They come and do what they do well. They've got fast guys, and they get the ball and spread the field out, make a lot of plays. We've got to pursue to the ball."

A lot will be learned about this Alabama football team next weekend in Fayetteville.

But after two games, the textbook isn't offering much in the way of where the lessons are.


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