CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

College Sports

September 20, 2010

ALABAMA FOOTBALL: UNDER PRESSURE

Tide defense hopes to disrupt Mallett, Hogs’ passing game

TUSCALOOSA — Ryan Mallett remembers last year’s trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium all too well.

Mallett was constantly harassed. He was consistently hit.

He was a complete non-factor.

Mallett entered the game as the NCAA leader in passing efficiency, and the Arkansas quarterback left with his worst performance of the season, throwing for 160 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 12-for-35 passing.

Think Mallett has forgotten about his miserable experience in Tuscaloosa?

His coach hasn’t.

“We didn’t execute very well,” said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, whose 10th-ranked Razorbacks host No. 1 Alabama (3-0) Saturday afternoon in Fayettville.

“But I think the biggest problem in that game was that we didn’t believe we could beat them when we stepped on the field.”

That won’t be the case Saturday.

This is a game the Razorbacks (3-0, 1-0 in Southeastern Conference) circled on the schedule before the season began.

“This is a very big game,” Petrino said. “Our players are excited about it, and our coaches are excited.”

Petrino is optimistic about his team’s chances. And for good reason.

Arkansas — and its prolific passing attack — will be pitted against an Alabama defense that is young and inexperienced in the secondary.

“I do believe it’s a favorable matchup,” Petrino said. “Their secondary is young, but they’re also very good. But we feel like we’re pretty good, too … and our guys are motivated to go out and show it on the field.”

That wasn’t the case a year ago.

Mallett was under constant duress in Alabama’s 35-7 win, with the Crimson Tide defense recording eight quarterback hurries and three sacks.

But that was with last year’s defense. Alabama’s pass rush hasn’t been quite as menacing this season.

Through three games, Alabama (3-0) has only recorded two sacks and nine quarterback hurries.

“Yeah (that’s frustrating), but that will hopefully come up as the season goes along,” Alabama linebacker Jerrell Harris said. “A lot of teams have been trying to get the ball out quicker so far this year, and that makes it difficult.”

Alabama hopes to change that trend in Fayettville — against a quarterback who’s been tabbed as an early Heisman Trophy favorite.

“We know we’re going to face a quarterback who is going to go out and try to execute his offense to the best of his abilities,” Alabama defensive end Damion Square said. “That gets me excited as a pass rusher.”

Mallett leads the SEC in passing yards (1081) and passing touchdowns (nine). The Razorbacks junior also has the conference’s third-best pass-efficiency rating, trailing Alabama’s Greg McElroy and Auburn’s Cam Newtwon respectively.

Mallett entered last year’s game with similar numbers, but was affected by an overwhelming pass rush.

“I think it will be a totally different challenge (compared to last year),” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They’ve got nine starters back on offense, so they’re better in terms of consistency and execution.

“I think (Mallet) is more comfortable in what he’s doing and what he’s expected to do … Bobby Petrino does a great job with him in terms of game plan, schemes and getting him in the right things to do, so this will be a real challenge for this team, but also an opportunity for them to learn, grow, develop and get better.”

But pressuring and affecting the quarterback is still a priority for Alabama, especially with a secondary that many consider to be the defense’s weakest link.

Alabama’s secondary may be young, but it’s had a few bright spots this season. The group has already recorded five interceptions, and Duke’s second-half touchdown this past Saturday was the first given up by the Tide this season.

But Alabama hasn’t faced a passing offense like Arkansas, either.

“I think that we have to do what we do extremely well,” Saban said. “And we’re obviously going to have to do it better than we’ve done it all season long, in terms of our ability to cover, run force and play the gaps up front.

“They have a very good play-action game and hit a lot of big plays on those types of things, so it’s going to be very challenging to execute what we do. They do have lots of weapons and I think everybody is going to have to do a really good job of executing for us to be able to slow them down.”

Justin Graves can be reached by phone at 734-2131, ext. 257 or by e-mail at jgraves@cullmantimes.com.

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