Great Tide Finish Keeps Hope Alive

Great teams don't always have great games. But great teams do great things. With its back against the wall, Alabama did great things on offense and defense in Fayetteville Saturday and took a step towards another championship season.

Alabama did not have a good first half, as evidenced by the fact it trailed Arkansas by 10 points. But Alabama turned in two crucial pass interceptions and Crimson Tide running backs punished the Razorbacks defense and Bama took a 24-20 decision.

Alabama trailed most of the game. Arkansas took a 7-0 lead and the Tide evened it up with a 54-yard run by Mark Ingram. By halftime, however, the Razorbacks had taken advantage of a couple of interceptions against Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy and had a 17-7 lead.

Robert Lester, who had a key interception to keep Arkansas out of the end zone in the first half, got his second with the Tide trailing by 20-17 with under five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Lester picked the ball off at the Arkansas 44 and returned it to the Arkansas 12. Three plays later Ingram took it in for a 24-20 lead with 3:18 to play.

Alabama-Arkansas Statistics

Arkansas had shown a week earlier it could move down the field in a hurry. In fact, it had shown that on the first series of Saturday's game against Alabama, Razorbacks quarterback Ryan Mallett completing passes on the first two plays of the game for a 45-second, 74-yard touchdown drive and 7-0 lead.

So Alabama's defense still had to hold, and hold it did. With just under two minutes to play and the Hogs operating from the Alabama 48, Mallett got pressure on a rush by Tide defensive end Damion Square. The book on Mallett is that he doesn't perform as well when he's having to throw with his feet moving. Mallett seemed to be attempting to throw the ball away, but it didn't quite get out of bounds and was intercepted by Bama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick at the Alabama 34.

It took a little work, including a fourth-and-one move-the-pile quarterback sneak by McElroy to complete the job, but Alabama was able to run out the clock and take its fourth consecutive win over Arkansas.

The game was the Southeastern Conference opener for Alabama, ranked number one in the nation. The Crimson Tide is now 4-0 overall. Arkansas is 3-1 overall and 1-1 in SEC games. The Razorbacks came into the game ranked 10th in the nation.

Alabama continues in SEC play next week in what has been anticipated as the biggest conference game of the year. Florida, ranked ninth in the nation going into this weekend, visits Tuscaloosa next Saturday. This match-up of the past two national champions and past two SEC Championship Game participants, will be televised by CBS in prime time, kickoff shortly after 7 p.m. CDT.

Every Alabama game is big for the opponent, and Arkansas was certainly excited about the match-up of two top ten teams, Bama being the current number one team and the 2009 national champion. The Razorbacks seemed at several times to be ready to take over the game, but Alabama stayed in touch and was able to do the clutch work for victory.

Going into the game, conventional wisdom was that Alabama would have to stop Mallett's passing and Arkansas would have to stop Ingram's running. The Tide couldn't stop Mallett in the first half, when he completed 15 of 22 passes for 250 yards and put 17 points on the board as the Hogs took a 17-7 lead at intermission. In the second half, Mallett had more good numbers, 10-16 for 107 yards, but the Razorbacks put up only three points.

Ingram was good in both halves, too, and made it into the end zone in the second half comeback. In only his second game back since arthroscopic surgery for a knee injury in late August, Ingram had 24 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns and caught two passes for 27 yards. And the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner didn't have a turnover, while Mallett was being intercepted three times for the only time in his career.

For the game, both teams had 421 yards of total offense. Alabama had 227 rushing and 194 passing. Arkansas didn't have that balance, 357 passing and 64 rushing.

Mallett had 74 of his yards before the stadium record crowd of 76,808 could settle in. He connected with Jarius Wright on a 31-yard pass on the first play of the game, then found a wide open tailback Ronnie Wingo on a 43-yard touchdown. The clock had only 50 seconds gone.

Alabama matched the Razorbacks with an electrifying touchdown play to even the score at 7-7 in the first quarter. On a first-and-10 from the Crimson Tide 46, Ingram went up the middle behind excellent blocks by Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker, stiff-armed a couple of Razorbacks en route to the goalline, and completed the 54-yard play with 6:21 remaining in the first quarter. Jeremy Shelley kicked it to 7-7.

Arkansas took a 10-7 lead with 1:42 to play in the first quarter, and the Crimson Tide wouldn't be tied or lead until its final score with 3:18 to play in the game. Fittingly, Ingram also scored the winning touchdown.

Zach Hocker made it Arkansas 10, Alabama 7 with a 31-yard field goal late in the first quarter.

Arkansas looked to be pulling away when the Razorbacks drove to the Alabama 6 early in the second quarter, but a Mallett pass in the end zone was picked off by Tide sophomore safety Robert Lester.

Alabama responded with a drive that was excellent until the final play. Bama went from its 20 to the Arkansas 4-yard line. McElroy, who would finish the game with satisfactory passing numbers, completing 18 of 26 passes for 194 yards, ended the drive with one of his two interceptions, a pass into double coverage in the end zone. Andru Stewart made the pick for the Hogs.

Alabama was in good position later in the quarter after a short Arkansas punt. The Tide had just moved into Arkansas territory when McElroy spotted Maruis Maze running open down the right sidelines. McElroy's pass, though, was delivered a moment too late and was intercepted by the Razorbacks' Rudell Crim at the Arkansas 34.

From there the Razorbacks drove to a critical touchdown. Mallett completed four consecutive passes, then gave it to Nile Davis, who ran it up the middle to a first-and-goal at the Alabama 1 with just 18 seconds to play before halftime. Mallett got it in on a quarterback sneak with 14 seconds to play and Arkansas had a 17-7 lead.

Alabama almost had the play of the day from Trent Richardson. On the final play of the second quarter, Richardson took it up the middle, then down the right sidelines where a final defender knocked him out of bounds after a 53-yard gain to the Arkansas 13. Time ran out during the run.

Richardson didn't match Ingram with a 100-yard rushing game, but the sophomore tailback had eight carries for 85 yards, caught two passes for 25 yards, and returned four kickoffs for 117 yards.

And after Arkansas took a 29-7 lead with a 48-yard field goal by Hocker, Richardson was key to the comeback. Bama had put the game on Ingram's back and he had responded with a 19-yard run to the Arkansas 15. Richardson came on to give Ingram a break. After a false start penalty, McElroy threw a swing pass to Richardson, who took it to the end zone and pulled Bama to within 20-14.

The Alabama plan for a touchdown and extra point to go ahead was thwarted when McElroy was sacked for an eight-yard loss on a third-and-nine play from the Arkansas 11. Shelley was called on for a field goal and hit the clutch 36-yard effort to pull Bama to within three points at 20-17.

Then it was up to the defense to get the ball back. That was done in a big way with Lester making his second interception of the game and fourth of the year. Not only did he make the pick, he made an excellent return from the 45 to the 12. Three runs by Ingram completed the scoring.

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