If the Alabama football team was able to take any lesson away from its game against Western Kentucky on Saturday, it’s that it can’t afford not to play up to its standards, regardless of the opponent.
The Crimson Tide will see if it was able to learn that lesson this weekend when it travels to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team that, much like the Tide, didn’t play up to its standards Saturday – The Razorbacks lost a stunner to the University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks 34-31 in overtime.
In that game, no Arkansas rusher eclipsed 100 yards, including junior Knile Davis, and the defense gave up over 500 yards of total offense to the Warhawks.
Despite the Razorbacks’ performance against what many believe was an inferior opponent, Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he wasn’t going to let their loss affect the way his team prepared for the game.
“They had a very difficult misfortune in the last game that they weren’t able to overcome,” Saban said. “But we still have to expect that we’re going to get their very best performance, and we need to have our very best performance if we’re going to be able to play the kind of game we need to play on the road and have a chance to be successful against what we think is a very, very good team.”
Indeed, rather than use their loss as an excuse not to prepare, Alabama is instead expecting to motivate the Razorbacks heading into the game.
Junior quarterback AJ McCarron said, more than anything, Arkansas’ loss would only serve to make the team angry.
“Yeah, definitely,” McCarron said. “They still got a chance to win the SEC. They’re definitely going to throw everything in the book at us. We’re going to have to be ready for the things they’ve shown us on film, things that they haven’t and things they’re going to come up with.”
Still, Arkansas’ loss to the Warhawks isn’t the only thing that may serve as a distraction for Alabama. Arkansas senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, who’s thrown for 568 yards and five touchdowns so far this season, suffered a head injury against ULM and is questionable to play in Saturday’s game.
Regardless, Saban said he wasn’t going to let his players assume they’d be playing against freshman quarterback Brandon Allen, Wilson’s backup.
“Nobody here should be feeling warm and cozy about the other team’s circumstance or situation,” Saban said. “We need to be thinking about what we need to do to be successful, regardless of who plays in the game.”
The message seems to have stuck with Saban’s defensive players, as seniors Robert Lester and Nico Johnson have both said they’re preparing as if Wilson is going to play. Lester said even if he doesn’t play, Arkansas’ other playmakers on offense would be more than enough to make up for his absence.
“We’re looking at it as if he is going to play,” Lester said. “And even if he doesn’t, Arkansas has great players and their backups are more than capable of coming in and managing the game and making plays.”
Still, despite all the questions surrounding Arkansas’ team, McCarron said the only thing his team should worry about is what it can control: improving on last week’s performance over the Hilltoppers.
Alabama’s defense didn’t seem to play with the same intensity as usual, and the offensive line, considered possibly one of the nation’s best, gave up six sacks on McCarron. Even on special teams, sophomore wide receiver Christion Jones let a few punts go that he should have fielded.
For McCarron, improvements can be made all over the field.
“Kind of a letdown week to our standards, so we’re definitely going to have to step it up,” McCarron said. “First SEC game, in-conference game, so we’ll definitely have to be on our A-game come this weekend.”