Finally, it is game week and football is here! I’m going to skip doing a breakdown on the Jacksonville State game. No dis-respect to the Gamecocks, but something has been killing me lately and it is about time I make my point. Hardly anyone in the media is giving us a chance against Alabama this season. Given, the Tide has owned us the last several years, but there are some glaring differences in the upcoming September 15th match-up and last year’s game. In fact, here are five good reasons I think could make the difference this year.
1. THE RETURN OF KNILE DAVIS
Obviously anytime you can bring back the SEC’s leading rusher, it is a good thing. Davis led the league in rushing in 2010 with 1322 yards, and this was mostly achieved in the last 6 games. Anyone who watched the Razorbacks at the end of that season recognized a difference in Arkansas’ offense with a home-run threat in the backfield: something that the Hogs had lacked since Darren McFadden and Felix Jones’ departures. Davis is a real threat to take it to the house on any carry, which will make it harder for the Tide to key in on Tyler Wilson and the Razorback’s passing game. If the offensive line blocks well, the combination is unstoppable in theory.
2. THE GAME IS IN FAYETTTEVILLE
The last time that Alabama came to Razorback Stadium they were, in my opinion, dominated by Arkansas for the first 3 quarters. The lack of emergence of a go-to running back, and 2 costly turnovers by Ryan Mallett in his own territory are what led to the win by Alabama. If you listen to the media, they act like we haven’t competed with Alabama for years and that is not true. Many of these same players were on that 2010 team who just fell short. This year’s game should be a lot different than last year’s. It’s hard to ignore how unstoppable Tyler Wilson was at home last season, and that was without a threatening run game. I’m sure Knile Davis would love to replay the 2010 game and get about 10 carries in the fourth quarter alone. Simply taking the ball out of the air and controlling the clock would have given the Hogs the big win they were looking for. This season, look for a healthy dose of Knile Davis, especially if we have a lead in the second half.
3. ALABAMA IS RETURNING ONLY 4 STARTERS ON DEFENSE
Returning only 4 starters on defense is a challenge for any team. Granted, Nick Saban rarely has a lot of drop-off on that side of the ball. His defense has been in the top 6 in the country since his arrival to Tuscaloosa in 2008, but the Tide have to face Tyler Wilson and the SEC’s top passing attack in only the third game of the season. Chances are, some new faces will make mistakes and hesitate at least enough for the passing game to be effective. Also, Knile Davis will be adding a dimension to Arkansas’ offense that Alabama has not had to deal with since the Hogs started leading the division in passing.
4. NEW WIDE RECIEVERS
A lot of experts have made a big deal about Arkansas losing 3 key receivers to the NFL. That is a fact that cannot be ignored, and that elite group will be missed. I just don’t think we are going to have much of a decline in the passing game without them. Naturally the reaction is to expect such with a team losing so much, but the Hogs are loaded at the position with talent. Now that the depth chart has been released you can also see that Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas’ shortest starting wide-out. This is a drastic change from years past with the smaller type receivers that we have had. Players like Mekale McKay and Brandon Mitchell will add the jump ball dimension we have been lacking since Greg Childs injury 2 years ago.
5. BIG PLAYS MADE THE DIFFERENCE LAST SEASON
From a general perspective it seemed that Alabama dominated from start to finish in last year’s game, but further investigation reveals some hope for this year. Alabama scored on 3 non-offensive touchdowns in that game last season, including the fake punt that seemed to change the games tone. Without the crazy plays the game was 17-14, a completely different story. My point is, even without us ever getting into a rhythm and being able to run the ball we still put up 14 points at their place. Add Knile Davis, a home-field advantage, the tide’s inexperience on defense, and taller receivers giving Wilson more confidence in the red zone and I think the hogs have a great chance to beat Saban and pave the way for a championship season.