A foot can go far in shaping the perception of a team.
If Cam Little’s field-goal attempt had been 12 inches to the left, perception of No. 2 Alabama’s game at No. 19 Arkansas on Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS) would be much different.
The Razorbacks would be a top-10 team. This would be a battle of unbeatens. Upset alert would become the tagline.
Instead, Little’s field goal ricocheted off the top of a goalpost, and that yellow pillar denied Arkansas the three points it needed on its final possession in a 23-21 loss to Texas A&M.
The ball tumbled into the end zone, and the next day, the Razorbacks spiraled in the polls. Alabama opened as a 16½-point favorite.
Nothing to see here, eh?
Not so fast.
The Hogs are now disguised as sheep, but Nick Saban isn’t deceived.
“They make a lot of explosive plays,” Alabama’s coach said three times Monday when assessing the Razorbacks.
Arkansas is defined by its explosiveness, and a team that can move the ball in big chunks is a threat. Arkansas ranks third in the SEC with 11 plays of 30 or more yards. That doesn’t account for Bryce Stephens’ 82-yard punt return touchdown against Missouri State.
Give Raheim “Rocket” Sanders a crease, and he’ll be gone in a blink, like his nickname implies. K.J. Jefferson can exploit a defense by ground or by air.
Working in Alabama’s favor?
No SEC defense is better at limiting explosive plays than the Crimson Tide’s. Plus, Arkansas’ injury-riddled secondary is a bugaboo.
How to combat that?
As Will Patton’s character said in “Remember the Titans”: Blitz. All. Night.
The Razorbacks’ 20 sacks lead the nation.
Bryce Young came under heavy fire from Texas pass rushers amid Alabama’s Week 2 scare in Austin. He’ll need to pack his scrambling shoes to Arkansas.
Lane Kiffin tweet sends fans to the dictionary
Lane Kiffin created a stir Tuesday when the Ole Miss coach tweeted my column in which I opined that neither Kiffin nor Kentucky's Mark Stoops needs to job hop to Auburn or Nebraska, if either comes calling.
Lane Kiffin and Mark Stoops should rebuff Auburn football or Nebraska https://t.co/XGR7t9C9tc
— Lane Kiffin (@Lane_Kiffin) September 27, 2022
Each coach has it made in the shade at his current gig, and their recent success proves Ole Miss or Kentucky could qualify for the College Football Playoff after it expands to 12 teams. Their undefeated teams will play Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ESPN) in Oxford.
Kiffin’s tweet read, “Lane Kiffin and Mark Stoops should rebuff Auburn football or Nebraska,” with a link to my column.
This sparked a rumbling among Ole Miss and Auburn fans, and the dictionary's entry for "rebuff" received a surge of attention.
Interestingly, Kiffin’s tweet language was simply pulled from the search-engine headline I wrote for my column. So, although the tweet seemed as if the Lane Train was telling himself, in the third person, to rebuff a potential overture from Auburn or Nebraska, he actually just tweeted language that yours truly had crafted.
Nonetheless, Kiffin’s tweet suggested he’s in his happy place at Ole Miss, where he’s won 15 of his past 18 games.
It would be peak college football, though, for Kiffin to tweet this column in September suggesting he’ll stay put … and then accept the Auburn job in December after Bryan Harsin is fired.
Will Arkansas fans flee the stadium like Gamecocks?
If Arkansas fans exit early from Razorback Stadium in favor of Fayetteville’s Dickson Street bars, then Will Anderson Jr.’s goal will have been achieved.
“We want fans to leave their own stadiums,” said Anderson, Alabama’s star linebacker. “Go out there and have fun, do your job, make sure the fans are leaving by the time halftime comes. At least by the end of the third quarter."
In other words, Alabama’s mission is to make the Arkansas faithful impersonate South Carolina fans, many of whom bolted from the stadium like George Costanza from a kitchen fire, before halftime of a 48-7 loss to Georgia.
South Carolina fans already heading to the parking lot and we haven’t even hit halftime. pic.twitter.com/F5ovwtktck
— Ben Portnoy (@bportnoy15) September 17, 2022
Email of the week
Mike writes: We Aggies probably used up our Guardian Angel's protection and luck. Arkansas was legally robbed.
Why was it so hot in an air-conditioned stadium? Was that some of Jerry Jones' strategy? Bet he was hating to give the winner's trophy to us again. We are now 10-1 vs. his Arkansas Hogs in the SEC.
My response: My grandma kept her home at 80 degrees, year-round. Guests were advised to wear shorts and a T-shirt – even during Illinois winters. Sounds like Helen and Jerry would have gotten along nicely.
Three and out
1. Let’s put a moratorium on reports about a teenager deleting Instagram posts. Saturday Down South and On3 served clickbait coverage this week of Luther Burden III scrubbing his social media profile after Missouri’s five-star freshman wide receiver had no receptions in a loss to Auburn. The stories speculated that Burden’s Instagram scrubbing was a sign of discontent. Burden later tweeted, “I’m always a TIGER! (Just) be patient, here we come! #Reset.” I’ve considered deleting my Facebook, but I don’t want to deal with the media coverage.
2. Tennessee played in two of the eight most-watched games this season, according to the Sports Business Journal. The Florida-UT game on CBS ranked fifth on the season viewership list – and No. 1 last week – and the Week 2 Tennessee-Pittsburgh game, televised on ABC, ranks eighth. Ohio State is the only other team claiming two of the top eight viewership spots. Tennessee gained an advantage by having two games on network television during the season’s first month, but there’s no doubt the No. 9 Vols being relevant is good for business.
3. Unranked Mississippi State is a 3½-point home favorite against No. 17 Texas A&M. Two notes: Aggies wide receiver Ainias Smith suffered a season-ending injury against Arkansas, and coach Mike Leach is 8-4 all-time against Texas A&M. “I never felt like I really hated them. I’m sure they hated me, which is fine,” said Leach, the former Texas Tech coach. “Your liking me is not mutually exclusive to me liking you.”
OK, but does Kiffin tweeting my column equal endorsement? Auburn fans want to know.
The "Topp Rope," is his twice-weekly SEC football column publishing throughout the USA TODAY Network. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Also, check out his podcast, SEC Football Unfiltered, or access exclusive columns via the SEC Unfiltered newsletter.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Alabama football vs Arkansas: Nick Saban has one word for Razorbacks