By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas receiver Cobi Hamilton isn’t lacking confidence this week.
The junior, who leads the Razorbacks in receiving with 15 catches for 198 yards, knows Alabama’s secondary is deep, physical and talented. But when he looks at teammates like Jarius Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs, Hamilton is certain Arkansas’ receivers can have a big day anyway.
“As long as we play fast and play hard, I don’t think anybody can stop us,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton and the rest of Arkansas’ wideouts will get the chance to prove it Saturday, when the 14th-ranked Razorbacks (3-0) play No. 3 Alabama (3-0) in Bryant-Denny Stadium. The play-by-play battle between Arkansas’ wideouts and Alabama’s secondary promises to be one of the more intriguing matchups in a game expected shape the SEC West race.
The reason? Arkansas is widely regarded as one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation with four veterans and a handful of talented youngsters.
“I haven’t seen all the wide receivers in the country, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to say they’re the best group in the country,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But I guess I would like to see the group that’s better than these four.”
And Alabama possesses one of the nation’s best secondaries, too, with veterans like safety Mark Barron and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick frustrating passing attacks.
“It’s a great matchup,” Wright said. “We have a lot of talent on offense and they have a lot of talent on defense.”
Alabama has had the upper hand the past several seasons, slowing Arkansas’ receivers enough to win each meeting.
The Razorbacks did gain 357 passing yards in last season’s game, but have averaged 255 in the three losses.
More important: Alabama has intercepted eight passes, which included three critical turnovers in last season’s win.
“I think it came from the ball being in the air so much,” said Lester, who had two interceptions last year. “We’re a good DB corps. Going against that type of receiving corps, if the ball’s up there, we’re likely to make plays on them.”
Lester was part of a relatively inexperienced secondary receiving its first test last season. And it showed early.
The Razorbacks scored quickly, getting a 31-yard completion to Jarius Wright on the first play. Then, running back Ronnie Wingo snuck out of the backfield, taking advantage of a coverage error that resulted in a 43-yard score.
The Crimson Tide settled down, minimized the damage and now believes the learning experience was an important part of the group’s maturation. But Alabama knows how dangerous Arkansas can be after the Razorbacks’ productive day.
“We never want anybody to outdo us,” Lester said. “We never want a receiver to put up a lot of yards against us. We always want to go out and make plays on whoever we play.”
Arkansas carries the same objective. The Razorbacks were short-handed last week with Wright sidelined by a knee injury and Childs missing after his grandmother’s death early in the week. But both are back in the plans this week and Hamilton believes it will be a lift for the group as it works one-on-one against Alabama’s defensive backs.
Arkansas is eighth in the nation in passing offense (346.7 yards), while Alabama is fifth in pass defense (114.7).
“We’re going to see a little bit more man coverage than we’ve been seeing,” Hamilton said. “But that’s what this offense is built around. As long as we play ourselves off and play fast and stay focused, I think we’ll win.”
Much more goes into offensive success, of course. Pass protection will be vital. Arkansas must run the ball effectively, too. And avoiding third-and-long is key.
Even if Arkansas completes its share of passes Saturday, offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said it won’t necessarily equal success, either. What Arkansas’ wideouts do after the catch will have a bigger impact Saturday.
“We’re used to getting a lot of yards after the catch, our guys making people miss and running down the field,” McGee said. “That’s going to be a key spot of the game. Can we get the yards after the catch that we’ve been getting or are they going to tackle us as soon as they get the ball?”
Hamilton, Wright and the rest of the receiving corps believe they will. Their goal is to prove they’re worthy of being called the nation’s best wideouts.
“It’s a very big chance for us,” Wright said. “We work hard in practice every week. And this week we’re going to work even harder to show the world that we are as good as everybody says we are against some great DBs.”