No. 2 ’Bama presents challenge, opportunity for Hogs

Arkansas defensive lineman John Ridgeway was invited to play in the Senior Bowl. / Photo:

The No. 21 Arkansas Razorbacks (7-3, 3-3 SEC) take their annual shot at the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (9-1, 5-1 SEC) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

The question is just how potent will that shot be?

The contest is CBS’ SEC game of the week, but the Crimson Tide are prohibitive three-touchdown favorites. The Hogs have lost 14 consecutive games to Alabama, which is eyeing a showdown with Georgia in the Dec. 4 SEC Football Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: at Alabama
When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Remaining schedule

Nov. 26 — Missouri, 2:30 p.m. (CBS)
Bowl game — TBD

The Razorbacks have won three consecutive games, but the two SEC victories over Mississippi State and LSU were by a combined 6 points. The other win was a blowout of Pine Bluff.

Considering the circumstances, it seems unlikely, but if the game comes down to a field goal, expect Arkansas coach Sam Pittman to have confidence in his freshman kicker Cam Little, who nailed a 37-yard, overtime field goal last week to help the Hogs topple LSU in Death Valley on Saturday night.

Little has developed into a weapon for the Razorbacks when their offense bogs down inside the 40-yard line. Pittman was so confident in his freshman place kicker that he didn’t worry about giving him a pep talk.

“I didn’t look at him,” Pittman said. “I was talking to the wings and the tight ends about handling the edge pressure. But I pretty much felt like if he got the ball up he was going to make it.”

However, Pittman did notice Little’s positive reaction to the fake field goal he called in the third quarter.

“Cam was the most excited guy whenever I said we’re going to fake it because he felt like it was there all night,” Pittman said “Sure enough, [Reid] Bauer went down there and did it. It just shows you how unselfish Cam is. Everybody else would’ve wanted to kick it. … He’s just a really good kid … so, very, very valuable.”

Three other valuable Razorbacks are wide receiver Treylon Burks (6-3, 225), nose guard John Ridgeway (6-4, 320), and quarterback K.J. Jefferson (6-3, 245).

Alabama coach Nick Saban practically gushed about Burks Wednesday. LSU held the Warren native in check last week, but he is still third in the SEC in receiving yards with 796 on 77 catches with 8 TDs.

“It’s difficult because he is a physical mismatch,” Saban said. “He’s bigger than most of the guys that are trying to guard him. It’s kind of like a point guard trying to cover a power forward-type guy who can run fast. Sometimes those mismatches are difficult. … How do you do it? Players have to play with great technique, and they have to understand that you’ve got to play big against a guy like that. And that’s difficult to do sometimes because he’s a big guy that plays big.”

Alabama has two of the top receivers in the SEC with Jameson Williams leading the league in receiving yards with 1,028 on 51 catches and John Metchie III with 722 yards on 46 catches.

Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young is second in the league in passing with 3,025 yards on 232 of 327 passing with a whopping 33 touchdowns to lead the league. Young also has the second best quarterback percentage in the SEC with a 180.13 mark to Georgia’s Stetson Bennett at 184.56.

Jefferson has the fourth-best QBR in the SEC at 161.8 with 1,990 yards on 147 of 226 passes with 17 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Jefferson also has 474 yards rushing and with five touchdowns.

Ridgeway received an honor in the form of a video invitation to play in the Senior Bowl from former Razorback and Dallas Cowboys Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President Stephen Jones earlier this week. Ridgeway, who held his gap, made a sack and three tackles against LSU, could return as a Super Senior next year or he could enter the NFL Draft in the spring. Pittman would love to have the big man back for another year.

“I’m happy for Ridge,” Pittman said Wednesday. “Certainly we’re talking to him. We’d like for him to come back. We think he can increase his draft status, but that’s between Ridge and I, and we’ll figure it out. But that’s (a Senior Bowl invite) a great honor, especially for a guy who came from a I-AA school to reach his dreams. Certainly proud of him.”

“He was consistently holding two guys in a gap,” Pittman said. “Anytime your linebackers are playing really well, probably the O-line is not getting up to them (because of a D-lineman). It’s not a sexy job, but it’s a very valuable one. He held the point, made some plays in there. He’s a big man and played with good leverage and good hands. I thought it was one of his best games.”

For the Razorbacks to have an opportunity to win Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ridgeway and the rest of the Razorbacks will have to play their best game of the season.

Nothing less will be enough against Alabama. Even then, there are no guarantees.