Perhaps Nick Saban is right and this upcoming contest is a trap game for Alabama. Perhaps they all are.
October just started and it’s hard to imagine stumbling in any of the three SEC contests it has scheduled in the month. (There are only four October Saturdays this year and one of those is an open date for the Crimson Tide.) There certainly doesn’t seem to be much chance that anyone is going to line up and try to do straight-on. It would be like putting a golf cart on the tracks and going headfirst into a locomotive. There may be three or four teams in America that could try that — Georgia, Ohio State, possibly Oklahoma or Clemson or maybe LSU in November. Until then, trapping the beast seems to be the only feasible option. The physical prowess is just too much so the hope is that the quarry will be mentally lazy, will ignore the warning signs, will put itself into a predicament that can be exploited.
That’s why Saban said that Arkansas, the next outing, could be “a little bit of a trap game.” He will be on a month-long crusade about wariness, a Smokey Bear (no, that’s not a Coach Bryant reference) reminding his team that only they can prevent penalties, fumbles and missed kicks. Alabama has had some of those along the way, although they have shrugged them off by scoring unmatchable point totals.
History says that funny things can happen when you go on the road in the SEC. That’s under normal circumstances, though. There have been years in the past when Alabama has had trouble in Fayetteville, Knoxville and Oxford (although, in the first two cases, it is becoming the distant past). The fact that Saban is now 38-7 in SEC road games while coaching at Alabama — three losses at Auburn, one each at LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Ole Miss — is an overlooked but remarkable statistic.
This year, though, through a quirk in the scheduling, three of Alabama’s four road games are against Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee who are in transitional periods. Two have new coaches, and one has a coach that was promoted from an interim role to help ride out a stretch of post-NCAA talent issues. That’s part of the reason that Alabama has to hear complaints about “the schedule,” even though that part of its schedule is beyond its control. Next year’s road trips — Texas A&M, South Carolina, Mississippi State and Auburn — may be more daunting. Alabama will still hear about “the schedule,” because rival fans aren’t in the business of saying “they’re just good.”
Arkansas does have some of the ingredients for a “trap” in its favor on Saturday. Alabama has to make a long trip for an early kickoff after hearing all week how it’s a 35-point favorite, the largest SEC road spread in Crimson Tide history. The Razorbacks are quietly playing better since an early-season loss to North Texas turned into a national embarrassment because a fake fair catch turned into a Mean Green punt return for a touchdown, the highlight going viral on all media. Last week, Arkansas pushed Texas A&M to the final minute (although the Aggies might have had a case of post-Alabama fatigue.) I don’t know if the crowd will be raucous — it’s a long drive from Bald Knob or Oil Trough at 6 a.m., especially if you think the Hogs might take a whipping.
Still, Saban is right to stay on guard — if not to avoid a loss, then at least to prevent stagnation.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.