The Alabama defense faced a rapid-fire attack from the Arkansas State Red Wolves on Saturday and for the most part dodged the bullets.
The Crimson Tide secondary fended off an offense that threw the ball 51 times, and Alabama adjusted to an up-tempo attack that attempted to push the pace to create confusion. There were a couple of breakdowns, but UA mostly handled the challenge.
Arkansas State passed for 218 yards with one touchdown and an interception, completing just 22 attempts. Twenty-five of those yards came on a trick-play pass back to the quarterback.
Ideally, the Red Wolves would have liked to have gotten the Alabama defense on its heels, running plays in rapid succession and not allowing the Crimson Tide to rest or bring in fresh substitutes. It didn’t happen that way because Alabama didn’t allow Arkansas State to sustain drives. UA held its opponent to 4 of 19 third-down conversions.
“I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job,” UA coach Nick Saban said. “They made a couple of explosive plays and we’ve obviously got to get that fixed, but we didn’t have any problems with substitutions, we didn’t have any problems getting guys in and out of the game.”
Alabama’s secondary had a couple of busted coverages, one of which left a receiver wide open early in the game when a defensive back fell down that could have ended up as a touchdown had the pass not been overthrown due to pressure brought by blitzing linebacker Mack Wilson.
It was the job of Wilson, an inside linebacker, to take defensive coordinator Tosh Lopoi’s calls from the sideline and get UA’s defense lined up correctly. He had to do so quickly to keep up with Arkansas State’s tempo.
“It was challenging,” Wilson said, “just trying to get the call from Coach Tosh and trying to get it communicated to everybody. I feel like we did a lot of fast-tempo stuff against our offense during the week so when we see it in the game it’s not really too much. It’s just about getting the call and making adjustments.”
Saivion Smith returned an interception for a touchdown in the second quarter. Safety Xavier McKinney might have had a chance at another, but he dropped a ball after breaking on it.
Alabama has faced two pass-heavy offenses – Louisville and Arkansas State – in its first two games. It will face another up-tempo attack next weekend at Ole Miss and others further down the schedule.
“I think it was helpful,” Saban said. “A lot of that stuff that we saw today was probably good experience for our team.”
Said McKinney, “It was a good opponent. We got tested a lot because we knew they were going to come in trying to pass the ball, so I felt like we prepared well for them. I thought this was a good opponent to get ready for the teams down the road. It’s a good matchup for us to see this early.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224