“I was pleased with the way we played in the second half,” Alabama Coach Nick Saban said Saturday night. “We didn’t play poorly in the first half; we just turned the ball over and we couldn’t finish drives in the red zone. We knew this would be a tough game. We had a tough game with these guys last year. We know what kind of team they are. They’re well coached.
“I told our players (at the half), ‘This is when you find out who you are, and how bad you want to do what you want to do.’ I thought the guys came out and responded really well in the second half. The big (81-yard touchdown) play from Jake (Coker) to Calvin (Ridley) was a big momentum changer in the game. I think from that time on we dominated pretty well, until they hit the (54-yard) scramble pass at the end (from Brandon Allen to Dominique Reed).”
Regarding the long pass from Coker to Ridley, Saban said Bama caught the Hogs in the perfect coverage for the play that was called. “You send the one guy down to (bait) the safety, and run a post on the other guy, and he gets no help from the safety. That was the design of the play. Everybody runs that pattern against ‘closed coverage,’ and we were fortunate to catch them in it when we called it. That’s what we wanted, and that’s what we were looking for. Calvin ran a great route; it was a great throw, and a really big play in the game.”
Saban seemed impressed with Arkansas’ senior signal-caller. “(Allen) did a pretty good job, and he’s really hard to sack. He’s very elusive, and he got out (of the pocket) a couple of times on us, but all in all, I thought our defense played extremely well. I thought we moved the ball effectively on offense; we just didn’t take advantage a couple of times in the red zone. We’ve got to take care of the ball. We can’t turn the ball over. That’s going to be real critical for us.
“Even though we got one turnover in the second half (on Eddie Jackson’s interception and 20-yard return), I thought the field position was really good, and I thought the kicking game had a lot to do with that. (Punter) JK (Scott) had a lot to do with that. He did a good job with punting (with a 50-yard average on four kicks). The one that was partially blocked was not his fault. It was a breakdown in protection. Kick-off coverage did a great job of putting (Arkansas) in bad field position, and the return game changed field positon a couple of times on punts.” (Cyrus Jones averaged 13 yards on three tries.)
Saban said his punt return team gets kudos for the evening’s biggest moment. “The big play in the game was stopping their ‘little fake punt thing,’ which we knew they had. We told them to watch out for it. I think our players did a good job of rallying (on the fake), because we really were in a return (call). We had practiced that (fake), and the guys did a really good job of responding to it.”
Asked about Coker’s performance on a night when the senior threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns on 24-33 passing but also had two picks, Saban was to the point. “I don’t think you ever want to have a guy throwing interceptions,” he said. “One was a bad interception, the first one, where (Coker) kind of threw it up and the free safety (Josh Liddell) intercepted it. The second one was just a little bit high, and came off the receiver’s hands. It was a tipped ball. You never want those. One was a bad decision, and one was not a bad decision. (Coker) made some really good throws. We’ve got to do a better job of protecting (him).”
The Tide held Arkansas’ leading rusher Alex Collins to 26 yards on 12 carries. Asked how, Saban said, “We played straight up, ‘base’ defense. We did a pretty good job against them last year. They’ve got a really good offensive line. Our guys are always up to the challenge when they play against a really good running team. I thought we did a really good job of staying in our gaps, and controlling the line of scrimmage. That was a real key. When people scramble, it takes a lot of discipline in the secondary to stay on your man in coverage, and not lose your guy. That’s what happened (on the Hogs’ late score).
“Our guys did a pretty good job of pushing the pocket. I was pleased with the pressure we got on (Allen). We created a lot of third and long situations, which is easier to pressure, and easier to play coverage on, so it all kind of adds up into helping play good defense.”
Senior linebacker Reggie Ragland was a big reason for that defensive effort, as he posted eight tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. It was hard not to notice. Saban did. “Reggie played a really good game tonight. He had lots of tackles,” Saban said. “He knocked down a ball, and was a good leader out there. Reggie’s played well for us all year, and this was probably one of his best games.”
Saban said it may have looked like Bama came in wanting to establish the pass, but that really wasn’t the case. “A lot of those things that are passes are run-pass options,” he explained. “It depends upon what the defense plays as to whether you run the ball or throw the ball. The right decisions were made, and we moved the ball effectively.
“It’s not like we’re just calling drop-back passes. I think that’s part of modern-day football. We weren’t trying to establish the pass. We were calling running plays that had passes attached to them, so when they were in certain defenses, we threw the passes instead of running it. I think everybody does that.”
Did the Tide maintain the momentum it established in last week’s 38-10 blowout in Athens? “I think we played a different kind of team today,” Saban said. “I think if we’d finished the drives in the first half and scored points, and don’t miss two field goals or turn the ball over, everybody would be saying, ‘You did great!’ We moved the ball and out-gained them (396-220 yards) them almost two to one… so, there was a lot of good things, and a lot of things that need to be corrected and that we need to work on, starting next weekend (at Texas A&M), so we’ve got lots of challenges ahead of us.
“I didn’t think there was any kind of letdown. The players played hard, and they played physical. They played with a lot of effort, we just didn’t always execute as well as we’d like. We’ve just got to learn to be more consisted. When we’re focused, we seem to play really well. I’m very, very proud of the way our players responded to the challenge. I think it speaks a lot to the competitive character of the team.”