Alabama Prepares for High-Velocity Arkansas State Passing Offense

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Hangover week is here for all of college football, where teams will be tested after their week 1 excitement. For the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide, they will be coming out of the week 1 hype from the highly-anticipated game where they won handily against the Louisville Cardinals 51-14. Week 2 will show the Crimson Tide as a team that might be either hungover on their thrashing of the Cardinals or they will be even more hungry to fix their mistakes against the Arkansas State Red Wolves. In their home opener, Alabama prepares for the high-velocity Arkansas State passing offense. As of Thursday, the Crimson Tide are a whopping 36.5-point favorite over the Red Wolves. This is due to their own high-octane offense led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and running back Damien Harris.

Tua’s Tune Up?

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa played in multiple games last season and started this past Saturday for the Tide. Tomorrow will be a different. He is making his first start at Bryant-Denny Stadium. This will also be the first time he will start in a lesser game, as Arkansas State is a Sun Belt school. Many believe this is a throw-away game against the Red Wolves. Tagovailoa and the Tide need to come into this game fully aware of the Red Wolves’ capabilities. Arkansas State held the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks to 285 total yards in their 48-21 victory last Saturday. This includes 163 passing yards from two different quarterbacks from the Red Hawks. The Crimson Tide will likely use a two-quarterback system with Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts this week.

The difference will be that the Tide will use Tagovailoa as the main quarterback in passing plays and Hurts as dual-threat RPO playmaker. Head coach Nick Saban made the early announcement of naming Tagovailoa the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide. Tagovailoa was by far the most efficient passing passer last week against Louisville. He passed for 227 yards and two touchdowns on 12 completions (16 attempts) while accounting for a 99.1 QBR. Hurts passed for 70 yards on five completions (nine attempts) for a 48.4 QBR and didn’t make efficient play reads of his receiver routes as well as the opposing defensive coverage. Tagovailoa will be more comfortable in the Tide’s offense as he will get more diverse passing opportunities. He may be more explosive as an aggressive passer, but he is also a great play-reading quarterback to make sound decisions.

Red Wolves Quarterback Justice Hansen

The Crimson Tide were facing a Cardinals offense that was replacing 2016 Heisman trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. Cardinals quarterback Jawon Pass accounted for 20 completions on 39 attempts for 252 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. There were multiple situations where the Cardinals receivers were wide-open on busted assignments from the Tide defense. Overall, the Tide held Pass to a poor 24.7 QBR as he struggled to make consistent connections. This week, the Tide are facing a much more experienced and explosive quarterback in Justice Hansen. Last year, Hansen accounted for 305 completions on 487 attempts for 3,967 yards, 39 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions for Arkansas State. He also ran the ball 132 times for 415 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. Hansen has tremendous arm-strength, great vision, and the dual-threat ability to sneak in first downs. Hansen has NFL characteristics that label him a worthy 2019 NFL Draft selection.

Last week, Hansen threw for 423 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception on 26 completions in 36 attempts. This was while he was in a clean pocket against an FCS team, however. Now they face the most aggressive defense in college football. Linebacker Mack Wilson is looking to become an efficient play caller for the Tide’s defense to get that unit into better coverages. More importantly, the Tide are looking to give their secondary more experience as they are all still young. Most of the defensive backs are starting the second game of their collegiate careers. Safety Deionte Thompson and Cornerback/Safety Shyheim Carter each accounted for an interception last week against an average quarterback. Alabama will get their defense sound and ready against a more established passer in Hansen. For the Tide to avoid an early deficit, they must be ready for a range of passes including deep passes.

A Fast Start For Alabama

Last week, the Crimson Tide offense scored quickly and scored often against the Louisville Cardinals. Most of the success came from the passing game. This week against Arkansas State, the Tide can score quickly through their tenacious and aggressive run game. Running back Damien Harris and the Tide’s running backs didn’t get much an opportunity to get into scoring situations due to the game plan of trying to elevate the passing of Tagovailoa. Arkansas State defense allowed 122 rushing yards on 31 rushes from Southeast Missouri State. The Red Hawks kept a tight game because their rushing game was consistent and durable. Last season, the Crimson Tide’s offense was ranked thirteenth in the nation in rushing yards per game (250.6 yards). The Tide return most of their main rushers except for Bo Scarbrough, who was the short-yardage runner.

The Tide’s offense accounted for 222 yards and three touchdowns on 42 rushes for an average of 5.3 yards. Senior running back Damien Harris only had seven rushes for 55 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per rush). Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris, and Tua Tagovailoa each accounted for a rushing touchdown. The Red Wolves defense was ranked 32nd in the nation in rushing yards allowed per game (136.1 yards) last season. The Red Wolves only return four defensive starters with three of them as defensive backs and the other is the nose tackle. Damien Harris has encountered two-straight seasons where he has rushed for 1,000 or more in the past seasons. He has a chance to start again and continue to climb up the rushing yards leaderboard at Alabama. The Tide can get a fast start against the Red Wolves much like Southeast Missouri State with Harris’ explosive, fast running.

Main Photo Credit:
File Photo: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13). September 01, 2018, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)