HOGS praised by Bama's Saban

HOGS praised by Bama's Saban

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FAYETTEVILLE - By their contrasting 4-0 vs. 0-4 SEC records, it seems Alabama holds a monopoly on playmakers over Arkansas in Saturday’s SEC West game.

However, even with a struggling offense, second-year coach Chad Morris’ Razorbacks present some skilled players worthy of Alabama coach Nick Saban’s mention.

No. 1 Alabama (7-0 overall) plays host to the Razorbacks (2-5) at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“They’ve got a really good runner (Rakeem Boyd),” Saban said. “The tight end (Cheyenne, also known as  C.J. O’Grady) is an outstanding player. They’ve got a couple of receivers (freshmen Treylon Burks and Trey Knox) who are ascending and becoming much more productive for them.”

Bearing an 88-game winning streak over unranked opponents, in part because of demanding his players respect their opponents, Saban also praised Arkansas quarterbacks Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel.

Hicks is a football eligibility fifth-year senior via SMU, while Starkel is a football fourth-year junior from Texas A&M. Both have had their moments, though they’ve variously shuffled as starter and backup because of inconsistency.

“We think their quarterbacks have played pretty well,” Saban said. “We have a lot of respect for Arkansas. They have some really good players.”

Burks of Warren (18 receptions for 283 yards), also an outstanding punt returner, and O’Grady of Fayetteville (29 catches for 319 yards and two TDs) played some high school QB. Morris has used their versatility for each to take direct snaps in the Wildcat formation among other alignments. He’s also stressed using the 6-5 Knox, who was named Wednesday to the Football Writers Association Freshman All-American team Watch List with 26 catches for 367 yards and two TDs, and sophomore receiver Mike Woods (24 catches for 319 yards and two TDs.

“We have to get the ball to our playmakers as much as we can,” Morris said. “See if these guys can provide that spark we need. It's our job to get creative and find ways to get them the ball in space.”

O’Grady, on the Mackey Award Watch List, has tied the Razorbacks tight ends TD catches record of 11. Quite an achievement given former Razorbacks DJ Williams and Hunter Henry each won the Mackey Award, annually voted to the nation’s best tight end.

“Just an unbelievable talent,” Morris said. “A guy who continues to get better. Really challenged CJ over the last year and a half of how good can he be? How good does he want to be? And um, you know, he’s doing a really good job of pushing himself as we’re continuing to grow him.

Burks exhibits nearly unlimited potential, but Morris says he must place some limits even as Burks’ role ever expands.

“The biggest challenge is to make sure you don't overload him,” Morris said. “He's got a lot on his plate as it is. As we continue to add to him, we want to make sure he feels comfortable, especially as a true freshman.”

Even with a banged-up shoulder seldom allowing him an all-out practice during game weeks, Boyd nets 656 yards and five TDs on 119 carries and caught 11 passes for 76 yards.

Still, behind a battered offensive line now short a senior starting left guard and starting senior left tackle, they only scored a touchdown and a field goal in last week’s 51-10 SEC West loss to Auburn.

Against last year’s 14-1 SEC champion/national runner-up Crimson Tide, the Razorbacks scored a surprising 31 points, the most scored on Alabama until the Tide’s 45-34 Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma and 44-16 national championship game loss to Alabama.

However, it seems this 2019 Alabama defense has improved with youth.

Precocious freshmen Justin Eboige, DJ Dale, Shane Lee, Christian Harris all start on the Alabama defense at end, noseguard, weakside linebacker and middle linebacker and all excel, Morris said.

“Earlier in the year, they had injuries which forced them to put a lot of freshmen on the field," Morris said. “Those freshmen continue to grow each week and get better. Those guys are dynamic players, difference-makers.”

He expects similar improvement from Alabama sophomore QB Mac Jones, the backup who starts for injured Heisman Trophy candidate starter Tua Tagovailoa. Jones played three quarters of the Tide’s 35-13 SEC triumph over Tennessee after Tagovailoa’s high ankle sprain.

“If you are a quarterback at Alabama, you are definitely a really, really good football player,” Morris said. “Mac is no different. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

The Razorbacks concluded the Fayetteville portion of game week Thursday with a light practice.

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