Bama Hits Road
That process has gone smoothly for Saban and the ninth-ranked Crimson Tide, and now one year later, first-year Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is hoping for similar results as he enters his first big test since taking over the Razorbacks.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Alabama –9.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 85% of bets for this game have been placed on Alabama –9.5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Petrino and the rebuilding Razorbacks host Saban and the Crimson Tide on Saturday in each team's SEC opener.
Saban led Alabama to a 7-6 record during the team's transition season in 2007, and all six of those losses were by seven points or fewer. Saban's first year gave Crimson Tide fans reason to be optimistic about the program's future, and a 41-38 home victory over Arkansas was one of the highlights.
Alabama blew two 21-point leads in that game, but scored with eight seconds left to secure the win - its first in conference play under Saban, who now has the Tide (3-0) in the AP's top 10 for the first time since the final poll of the 2005 season.
Petrino hopes he can turn around the Razorbacks (2-0) just as quickly. Arkansas went 8-5 last season, finishing outside the Top 25 despite featuring two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden and fellow first-round NFL draft pick Felix Jones in the backfield.
Petrino, who spent the majority of last season as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, would benefit greatly from a win over Alabama. That could be a challenge, however, as the Crimson Tide have put together three dominating efforts to start the season.
Alabama outgained Western Kentucky 557-158 in a 41-7 rout last Saturday.
"We started the game out but most importantly we finished," Saban said. "That's what we wanted to try to accomplish. The goal in this game was to go prove that you could play to your capacity, you could play your best football."
John Parker Wilson completed 17 of 27 passes for 215 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and became the Crimson Tide's all-time leader in total offense with 6,321 yards. Ten Alabama receivers had at least one catch last week.
"It was good to come out and start the way we did. We were able to sustain the whole game," Wilson said. "A bunch of guys caught the ball which is good. It makes it hard on the defense when you can spread it around like that. You don't have to rely on one person. The more guys that get touches, the better we are going to do as a team."
Alabama can be just as proud of its defense, which despite the loss of six starters, has allowed only one offensive touchdown in the first three games. The Tide lead the Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing defense, holding opponents to 42.7 yards per game. They're giving up only 1.9 yards per carry, and haven't allowed a run longer than 13 yards.
"Ever since the fall camp started I knew what kind of potential this defense had and I knew we would be better anyway just because everybody understood it a lot better," said defensive end Lorenzo Washington, last year's starting nose tackle.
That doesn't bode well for Arkansas, which was scheduled to play at Texas last Saturday before the game was pushed back to Sept. 27 because of severe weather brought on by Hurricane Ike.
The Razorbacks started slowly in their last game Sept. 6, but salvaged a 28-27 victory over Louisiana-Monroe after Casey Dick completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Williams with 1:22 remaining.
That was a familiar scenario for Arkansas, which has trailed at halftime of both of its games and has led for a total of 3:11 in the second halves.
"We moved the ball, but didn't get points. That was certainly something that was a concern of mine," Petrino said. "You look at the first half stats and the number of rushes and the number of carries, the yardage we had, we should've been up by 14 or 21 points and we weren't. That always comes back to haunt you."
Though he's frustrated with his team's sluggish starts, Petrino is just as pleased with the way it's been able to close out games.
"I was proud of the way our team held together," he said. "Our young guys, our freshman guys are getting better. They learned a lot the last two games. ... We played harder, we played faster and we won the game, and that's the most important thing, that we came away with the win."
Another strong finish could be the key to beating Alabama, as the teams' last two meetings have been decided by a total of four points. The Tide lead the all-time series 10-8, and Saban is 4-2 in his career against the Razorbacks, dating to his tenure with LSU.
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