Time for Tide to start earning respect

September 26, 2009

This is where it starts to get interesting. No more Florida Internationals or North Texases.

Third-ranked Alabama's next seven games include showdowns with Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, the Ol' Ball Coach and his could-always-come-out-of-nowhere Gamecocks and, of course, Saturday's matchup with SEC West rival Arkansas.

This will be the Tide's first real test against an offense that is putting up silly passing numbers. Razorbacks QB Ryan Mallett, who is an inch taller than Michael Jordan with the gangly fidgetiness of Paris Hilton, is averaging 428 yards in the air and is a perfect 10-for-10 when throwing it in the red zone.

The Razorbacks have put up 89 points in two games, and Mallett is rolling into Tuscaloosa on a hot streak, having tossed five touchdowns against Georgia. The Alabama defense has given up an average of 15 points in three outings, but, as Nick Saban said, they have yet to face anything like Hog Air.

"When they get five times more yards throwing than they do running, you have to adapt and play a little bit more coverage and try and take away what they do best," Saban said. "I think you have to play the situations in the game, but I also do think that you do have to emphasize coverage and be able to play the passes, especially so that you don't give up big plays."

How will the Tide's much-hyped defense respond? Probably well. Mallett hasn't faced a rush like he'll see on Saturday, and the Tide's linebackers and cornerbacks are bigger, stronger and just as fast as the Arkansas receivers. Unfortunately, a lot of fans won't be judging 'Bama solely on how well they play the Hogs. The sad reality for Saban is that from now until the first week of December, the Tide is in a de facto fantasy match with the team it hopes to meet in the SEC title game: the top-ranked Florida Gators.

Florida didn't have a great SEC opener. The Gators won by 10, but in a week where there was crazy talk about hanging 100 on Loud . . . oops . . . Lane Kiffin, the victory failed to meet expectations. This week is Alabama's chance to steal a little thunder from a team that is sucking most of the oxygen out of the SEC.