Petrino vs. Saban

You could bill it as a fight. Saturday brings us the battle of the offensive master against the defensive maestro. Two coaches who need to reestablish themselves as contenders for the crown. They’ve been tarnished by fighting in a different classification (the NFL), but have returned to their true homes.

The coaches said the usual good things about each other during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. Petrino praised Saban’s work with Alabama, and Saban praised Petrino’s work.

And their respective handiwork is about what you would expect. Saban’s defense has been strong this year and Petrino’s offense has been exciting.

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Alabama leads the nation in rushing defense. The team has surrendered 128 net yards this season on 68 attempts with an average of 1.88 yards per carry. When you give up only 42.7 yards per game, that is impressive. The Tide hasn’t surrendered a touchdown on the ground. Stopping the run contributes to some important successes. According to the University, Saban is 6-2 at Alabama when holding an opponent to under 100 yards rushing. No big shock in that statistic. When teams can’t run, they usually lose. No surprise in that.

Petrino has Arkansas ranked first in the conference and 10th in the nation in passing offense and second in the conference in total offense. Petrino has Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick playing at a very high level. Dick enters the Razorbacks’ SEC opener after tossing back-to-back 300-yard passing games. Dick has 38 career touchdown passes, and appears to have progressed nicely under Petrino’s system. He has yet to face an SEC defense, and Alabama’s defense so far this season has been stout.

However, you can’t argue with Dick’s success. He’s second in the conference in passing efficiency and 28th in the nation in passing efficiency. That is one step ahead of last year’s Heisman winner Tim Tebow.

So what do the coaches see in each other’s teams?

What we see.

Saban summarized Petrino’s offense as a “quality passing game” that was “well thought out.” He said the pass protection Arkansas brings is very sound. If you’ve seen Petrino’s work at Louisville or Atlanta, Saban said it will be similar Saturday.

“He is an outstanding offensive coach,” Saban said.

Petrino said Alabama’s defense is able to go with a three or four man front depending on what they want to accomplish. This is due to having quality athletes who can line up with a hand down or stand up and play linebacker. “I think the ability to go back and forth is what makes it difficult on offenses,” Petrino said. He went on to say this flexibility forces the team to prepare blocking assignments for two different looks. This requires more time in practice and has the result of forcing the team to scale back what protections it will do during the game, according to Arkansas’ coach.

Both teams will face better opponents than they’ve faced over the last couple of weeks. With conference play beginning, the season gets much rougher.

“It certainly is an upgrade,” Petrino said. “We are playing a team that is good, very well coached, has very good talented players. I think we will learn a lot and find out about ourselves. Hopefully, we will step up to the challenge and execute and play up to the competition. I think our guys will be ready to play and I think our guys have improved in the last two weeks of practice.”

One interesting stat to watch during the game are third down conversions. Alabama leads the conference in third down conversions. The Tide is converting 54.8% of third downs putting it ahead of second place in the SEC Arkansas. The Razorbacks are converting 54.6% of third downs this season.

For Alabama to have success against the Razorbacks the defense must get the Hawgs off the field by lowering their conversion rate.