Alabama football is about to embark on an arduous three-game stretch. A trip to Fayetteville will kick it off.
The Razorbacks are coming off a deflating loss to Texas A&M after a late-field-goal attempt hit on top of the upright, but this Arkansas squad seems to be a quality one which could give Alabama problems on the road.
Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman has turned Arkansas into a contender again in the SEC West. Just a season ago, The Razorbacks won nine games and took the Crimson Tide to the final minutes in what ultimately ended as a 42-35 loss.
"Sam's done a great job there, to me," Nick Saban said. "They play with toughness. They run the ball effectively, stop the run on defense. I mean, their guys play hard. They've got a real culture there that shows great intangibles."
Now, Pittman will have his third crack at the Crimson Tide. No. 2 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) will face No. 19 Arkansas (3-1, 1-1) on Saturday (2:30 p.m., CBS) at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Here's our scouting report and score prediction for the game:
QB KJ Jefferson leads offense
He doesn't have receiver Treylon Burks to terrorize Alabama with this time, but Jefferson will have to be a focus for the Crimson Tide again.
He provides a threat passing and rushing. He's tied for fourth in the SEC in passing touchdowns (eight) and has thrown only one interception. His completion percentage (69.1%) ranks fifth. Meanwhile, he's tied for second in rushing touchdowns (four) and ranks seventh in the conference in rushing yards (274). For comparison, Alabama's leading rusher Jase McClellan has 245.
"He’s so explosive and people don’t give him as much recognition as he needs with his arm," Alabama linebacker Henry To'oTo'o said. "He throws the ball so well, he creates so much problems for opposing defenses that you have to prepare for from down-in and down-out for all four quarters."
Jefferson is only one part of an effective running game. Raheim "Rocket" Sanders leads the entire SEC with 508 rushing yards. He averages 127 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the nation. Overall, Arkansas has a top-10 rushing offense.
The Razorbacks are led by an offensive line that Saban said is a reflection of Pittman's personality.
"Those guys are tough, man," Saban said.
Familiar face at front of elite pass rush
Alabama will have to focus on defending a player it knows well. Linebacker Drew Sanders, who played two seasons for the Crimson Tide, transferred to Arkansas and now leads the nation with 5.5 sacks. Former teammate Will Anderson Jr. is right behind him with 4.5.
Sanders isn't alone in his success rushing the passer. The Razorbacks lead the nation with 20 sacks through four games. That's an average of five sacks per outing.
Alabama's offensive line will have a chance to show how much it has or hasn't improved its inconsistent blocking from last year. So far, the Crimson Tide has allowed only four sacks but no team has presented the challenge of this Arkansas front just yet.
“One thing we really did going into this offseason was just preparing in the pass pro," right tackle JC Latham said. "So going into this week, it’s not like we’re going to all of a sudden just say, ‘Oh, now we’ve got to prepare for Arkansas.’ We’ve been doing this since the offseason last year, banging out fundamentals and really working on pass protections. The little things, as well. Not just, ‘Oh, we’ve got a great matchup right here.’ Just whatever it is, make sure we handle it."
If Alabama can give Bryce Young time, he could be in for another big day against the Razorbacks.
A year after he broke Alabama's single-game record for passing yards, Young faces a secondary that could be in trouble. Injuries have affected the group, particularly safety Jalen Catalon, who is out for the season.
Overall, the secondary has struggled. The Razorbacks have one of the worst pass defenses in the country. Arkansas has allowed 302.5 passing yards per game, ranked sixth-worst in FBS. The only team worse in the SEC is Tennessee, allowing 309.2 passing yards per game.
Alabama 31, Arkansas 20: The front seven could give the Crimson Tide some problems, but Young will find ways to take advantage of Arkansas' weakness in the secondary. The Alabama defense won't be perfect, but its strength defending the run will limit the Razorbacks enough on the ground to win the game.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Alabama football vs. Arkansas: Score prediction and scouting report