TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Arkansas' season took a downturn this past weekend, but it hasn't been all negative for the now-unranked Razorbacks.
The Hogs' offense was lackluster last week, but the production from senior tight end Chris Gragg was not. And it's cause for concern the Crimson Tide defense.
If Alabama covers the tight end the same way it did Western Kentucky, Gragg could be in for a big day. The Hilltoppers exploited the intermediate passing game, completing 16 of 20 passes to the tight end, fullback or running back.
The 6-foot-3, 236-pound starter showed off his athleticism against Louisiana Monroe, catching seven balls for 83 yards, bringing his season total to 193 yards and two touchdowns. He's on pace to blow last year's numbers -- 518 yards, two touchdowns -- out of the water.
The deep ball is still a threat for the young Alabama secondary, though. Michigan exposed some flaws in the back end of the defense, connecting on a handful of long passes. While the Wolverines are certainly capable of big plays, they're not as known for having as potent an offense as Arkansas.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect of Arkansas's system and their scheme and the things that they do," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "They have probably as productive an offense as we play against and most challenging to defend."
Tyler Wilson threw for more than 3,600 yards last season. His favorite target, 6-foot-3 sophomore Cobi Hamilton, averaged 15.9 yards per catch in 2011 and has followed that up with a strong start this season, catching eight passes for 112 yards.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said the key to stopping the pass will be to keep running game down.
"That’s our No. 1 priority," Mosley said. "Once we get through the run established, and make them one-dimensional, that’s when Coach [Kirby] Smart and Coach Saban come with the crazy mind games as far as playing third down and rushing and all kind of different things like that."
Stopping the run won't be easy, though. Arkansas tailback Knile Davis hasn't had quite the same production as he had in 2010 before his knee injury, but Saban still sees the same home run threat on the field.
"He's playing extremely well right now," Saban said. "When he's had the ball he looks very effective, healthy, fast, quick, strong. He's got good running instincts. We think the guy's an outstanding player."
Sorting out the pass protection
Center Barrett Jones voiced his displeasure with the performance of the offensive line against WKU, having given up six sacks and eight tackles for loss. He called it "rough day" and noted that there was a lack of communication and execution.
After three days of practice and a few hours watching film, Jones said Wednesday that he feels like those errors are close to being corrected in time for Arkansas.
"We made a few mistakes in the passing game and the running game, just a few things we didn’t execute on and we’ve really just been focusing on the fundamentals," he said. "They brought a few looks last week that we weren’t really prepared for and we kinda paid for it a little bit, but I think we settled down this week and watched a lot of film and really prepared extremely hard and I think we should be ready for whatever Arkansas throws at us."
One of the reasons for WKU success might have been because they knew what was coming. A report published by SB Nation indicated that the Hilltoppers coaching staff were cluing in on movements from right tackle D.J. Fluker that told whether he was in run or pass protection.
Saban, when made aware of the report, didn't have much to offer on the subject, saying simply, "Hmm, well that's good to know."
Jones said the staff does a lot of self-scouting in order to keep clues like that from surfacing.
"We have a great staff that looks at that kind of stuff on a regular basis and it goes far beyond whether we’re tipping," Jones said. "And also, say we have a certain formation we only pass out of or only run out of, we’ll run the opposite play out of that just to make sure we’re not tipping off anything."