FAYETTEVILLE — Isaiah Nichols and the Arkansas defense will have a tall task on Saturday going against a prolific Alabama offense.
Nichols has 18 tackles this season, including five solo, 0.5 tackle for loss, 0.5 sack and a pass breakup. The redshirt sophomore has emerged as the starting tackle inside with Jonathan Marshall. Nichols talked about his season.
“You know there’s a lot of good,” Nichols said. “I’ve done a lot of learning especially with Coach (Derrick) LeBlanc. He’s been able to help me elevate my game, but I just come here ready to work every day. Come in and try to get better, starter or not. Come in and do my job. If I’m not getting better every day that’s a problem. It’s definitely been great to have my name out there better, but the work doesn’t stop. I’m still grinding like I haven’t accomplished anything.”
Nichols and the other defensive players have benefitted from Barry Odom being the defensive coordinator. Odom is a candidate for the Broyles Award.
“I just think he’s very consistent,” Nichols said. “He’s the same person everyday. You’re going to ge high intensity, very good coaching. You’re going to get good play calling and dedication that it’s unmatched. I have a lot of faith in Coach Odom. He’s made me a tremendously better player. I have faith in him so if there is any award that he is up for he deserves it.”
Arkansas’ defense has played well most of season, but the fourth quarter at Missouri saw them yield 27 points in a 50-48 loss to the Tigers. Nichols talked about that 15 minutes last Saturday.
“We have to give Missouri their credit,” Nichols said. “They came out and won the game. But there’s a lot of things that we did that we know how to do, we didn’t execute very well. Going back looking at the mistakes like keeping the edge and staying strong on the guard where they can’t climb. Just a lot of technique things we’ve got to be sound on. Just perfecting our craft. Getting better going in and bouncing back. We can’t let as Coach (Sam) Pittman says a lot we can’t let Missouri beat us twice. We can’t that carry on to next week. It’s a new week. We’ve got to prepare and get ready for the next game.”
What did Odom say to the defense after that game?
“He just, just like any good coach we’ve got to correct the things that we did wrong and move past it,” Nichols said. “There is nothing that we can do about it now, but what we can do is get better at what we did wrong and be better in the future.”
The Alabama offense is the main reason the Tide enters this game 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.
“Obviously they are very well rounded offensive line,” Nichols said. “Probably one of the best we will face this year. Very good quarterback, very good running back. Receiving corp also phenomenal. I think it’s a good challenge for us. Not many teams get to play the No. 1 team on a yearly basis. So that’s definitely something we’re looking forward to. It’s a good challenge for us, but at the end of the day the goal is to win the game. That’s what we practicing for, that’s what we’re preparing for and that’s the main goal at the end of the day.”
Pittman said the Alabama offensive line is one of the best ever in college football. Nichols said challenges like this is one of the reasons he came to Arkansas.
“It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to,” Nichols said. “You want to be the best you’ve got to play the best. And you know in this league if you want to go to the NFL this is the league to do it and the game to do it. Obviously every game on the schedule is building your resume and this one is an important game. We’ve just got to prepare like we prepare on a weekly basis and be sound in our fundamentals and technique. Just go out there and play our game. At the end of the day if we play better than they do we win the game.”
Senior running back Najee Harris leads the Tide wtih 169 carries for 1,038 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also has caught 26 passes for 247 yards.
“He’s a very good back,” Nichols said. “I will give him his credit, but just the reality of football if you play the right technique and do what you’re supposed to do we win and so…. We definitely have to respect the skill and talent that they have, but at the same time we can’t let them beat us mentaly. We have to go out there like I said and just play our game.”
Arkansas and Alabama will kickoff at 11 a.m. and televised on ESPN from Reynolds Razorback Stadium.