- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The fun is over.
Better yet, it's just beginning.
The time for SEC play has arrived for the No. 1 ranked Crimson Tide. On Saturday, Alabama will travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to begin league play against an opponent with something to prove.
"This is a game that we are really looking forward to," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of facing the Arkansas Razorbacks. "This is a great opportunity. It is always great to play in the league. These guys certainly have a very, very good team and one that presents a lot of challenges for us.”
Arkansas endured a humiliating defeat at the hands of the pesky Louisiana Monroe Warhawks a week ago, one that had many questioning just how good John L. Smith's Razorbacks really were. The Hogs slipped from No. 8 in the polls to "others receiving votes" in no time.
It's was a familiar scene to some players at Alabama, recalling when the Tide lost to Louisiana Monroe in 2007. Bama linebacker Nico Johnson said simply, "It happens" when asked about the defeat and added that he's sure the Razorbacks will bring their best on Saturday.
"We know they're at home, they're looking to bounce back," he explained. "So, we've got to be on our P's and Q's this week."
Who starts under center? The will he or won't he game surrounding Tyler Wilson has yet to run its course. Having not participated in any contact drills, it's still unclear whether one of the best quarterbacks in the country will be available to play, let alone start. If Arkansas loses the heart and soul of its offense, it could be a long day for the Razorback faithful.
Protecting McCarron: Alabama's offensive line was, at times, lost against Western Kentucky. The six sacks on AJ McCarron tell the story of missed assignments and poor execution. If there's one player Alabama can't afford to lose, it has to be its starting quarterback. There are only so many games he can win from his backside.
Secondary schooling: Whether it's Tyler Wilson, Brandon Allen or Betty White under center for the Razorbacks, their offense is still dangerous. With players like Chris Gragg, Cobi Hamilton and Brandon Mitchell to throw the ball to, the Alabama secondary will have to be on its toes. This will be, by far, the biggest test of the year for a young group of defensive backs.
Alabama players to watch
RT D.J. Fluker: Whether he's tipping his protection or not, Fluker needs to do better against the Arkansas pass rush than he did against WKU. He looked slow and out of place at times this past weekend, and it's safe to assume the Razorbacks will attempt to exploit that once again.
RB Eddie Lacy: The time for Lacy to get back to 100 percent is here as SEC play begins. The junior running back hasn't looked the same as he did a year ago, and with Jalston Fowler lost for the year, it's imperative he take ownership of the tailback position. If he doesn't, freshman T.J. Yeldon might just do it for him.
OLB Adrian Hubbard: The sophomore linebacker got to Tyler Wilson last year, delivering a highlight reel hit to the Razorbacks' quarterback in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The hope for he and his teammates is that he can do it again, this time on the road and as a starter.
Arkansas players to watch
QB Tyler Wilson/Brandon Allen: The drop off between starter and quarterback is significant. All one needs to do is what the tape of last weekend's game to see that. But whoever is under center for Arkansas has a number of weapons to throw to on offense, which makes him dangerous.
TE Chris Gragg: He may not be a household name in the SEC, but Gragg's performance in his senior season has been impressive. The tall, athletic receiving threat already has 193 yards and two touchdowns this season.
RB Knile Davis: Whether he's the Knile Davis of old is still up for debate, but even if he's half of what he was, he's still the best running back the Tide have faced this season.
C.J. Mosley versus the underneath passing game: The WKU offense was shut out on the scoreboard this past weekend, but the Hilltoppers didn't have much trouble moving the chains against Alabama. WKU completed 16 of 20 passes to tight ends and tailbacks. C.J. Mosley, the Tide's most affective linebacker in pass coverage, will have his hands full against Arkansas defending the underneath and intermediate passing game.
By the numbers
550: The Razorbacks defense was nonexistent against Louisiana Monroe, surrendering a whopping 550 yards of total offense to the Warhawks.
5-0: In recent years, the Alabama-Arkansas series has been quite lopsided. with the Crimson Tide taking the last five contests, losing just three times since 2000.
5 of 6: Alabama has been lethal inside the red zone this year, scoring touchdowns on five of six drives inside the 20-yard line.
1dJeremy Crabtree and Brandon Chatmon