FAYETTEVILLE — Alabama coach Nick Saban and the Tide will host Arkansas on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in a game that pits the No. 2 team in the nation against the No. 21.
Saban has a lot of respect for Arkansas, a team that beat Texas A&M, which upended the Tide. He has been impressed with Sam Pittman, a coach he once offered a job, and what he has accomplished at Arkansas in 20 games.
“Yeah, well, Arkansas has got a really good team,” Saban said. “Sam has done a great job there. They are very well coached. Very much improved and playing really, really well. Their quarterback does a great job for them run and pass. (Treylon) Burks is a great receiver. They got a good running game. They run the ball effectively. Their defense really plays physical. They’re tough. They have got a little different scheme. So a lot of challenges this week. But we’re working on trying to get it right.”
The quarterback Saban refers to is redshirt sophomore KJ Jefferson. Saban faced him a little last season.
“Obviously when he played last year, he was athletic, obviously made good plays,” Saban said. “But I think as a starter, they’ve been able to feature the things that he can do really, really well. And I think he’s made tremendous progress as a passer, knowledge of the offense and ability to execute and do the things they need him to do to be effective in terms of distributing the ball, whether it’s run or pass. The guy’s a big, strong guy so he’s hard to sack. He’s extended plays and made plays running and throwing. So, he’s a talented guy to try to defend.”
Burks is Jefferson’s favorite target and a wide receiver who has Saban’s full attention heading into the game.
“It’s difficult because he is a physical mismatch,” Saban said. “He’s bigger than most of the guys that are trying to guard him. It’s kind of like a point guard trying to cover a power forward-type guy who can run fast. Sometimes those mismatches are difficult. So, that’s a challenge in the game. How do you do it? Players have to play with great technique, and they have to understand that you’ve got to play big against a guy like that. And that’s difficult to do sometimes because he’s a big guy that plays big.”
Pittman has Arkansas at 7-3 on the season with a trio of wins in the SEC, the same number the Hogs won last year. In the three years prior to Pittman’s arrival the Hogs had won one SEC game. What has made them so much better?
“I think they play with great intangibles,” Saban said. “They play with great effort, they’ve got great toughness and discipline in terms of how they execute what they do. And their players have all improved. A lot of these players played last year on the offensive line are better. They’ve got some really good – Burks is a really good player. Defensively, they play a great team together scheme. Everybody knows what they’re doing, and they do a good job of it. They execute well, they play hard and they’re tough. They play the same way on special teams. They’ve got better players, some of them are better from just being in the program and improving and developing, which is always a sign of a good coach. I think also they play with great intangibles.”
Saturday’s game will be televised on CBS.