Big Plays Propel Bama Past Arkansas
Alabama picked off two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, had three long runs for scores, and got a record-breaking touchdown pass in the rout of the Razorbacks in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams Saturday.
Alabama, ranked ninth in the nation going into Saturday's games, is now 4-0 overall. Arkansas, which had squeaked by lightweights Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe in its first two games, fell to 2-1.
Alabama continues in Southeastern Conference play and has another difficult road assignment next week. Bama goes to Georgia for a game to be televised by ESPN at 7:30 p.m. EDT (6:30 central) next Saturday. The Bulldogs, among the pre-season favorites for the national championship, are ranked third in the nation and playing at Arizona State.
Arkansas has a murderer's row ahead with seventh-ranked Texas, fourth-rated Florida and number 10 Auburn in the next three weeks.
Alabama had plenty of highlights in the decisive win at Arkansas. Glen Coffee had touchdown runs of 87 and 31 yards; Javier Arenas had a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown, which was topped by Justin Woodall's 74-yard interception return for a TD; Roy Upchurch had a 62-yard touchdown sprint; and John Parker Wilson became Bama's career touchdown passing leader with a 25-yard scoring toss to freshman Julio Jones. Alabama also got a touchdown run from freshman tailback Mark Ingram.
Although the interceptions that were returned for touchdowns were the biggest gifts from the Razorbacks to the Crimson Tide, there were a few others. One came on Alabama's opening drive when an Arkansas punt rusher brushed Tide punter P.J. Fitzgerald. It wasn't a hard foul, but it was a five-yard penalty, giving Alabama a first down and keeping the game-opening drive alive.
That opening drive went 71 yards in 10 plays with Ingram going over from the one. Van Tiffin didn't have much pressure in Fayetteville this year as he kicked the first of his seven extra points.
Alabama's second scoring "drive" took one play and 13 seconds. Junior tailback Glen Coffee went off the left side of the line, cut it back and outlasted defensive pursuers on an 87-yard run. After two possessions, Alabama had a 14-0 lead.
Just before the end of the first quarter, Bama made it 21-0 when Arenas made his first interception for the Tide. On an apparent miscommunication between Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick and his receiver, the ball sailed to the outside where Arenas grabbed it at the Alabama 37. Arenas, one of the niftiest kick return men in the nation, had only one player – the Arkansas quarterback – to beat on the interception runback.
That was no problemo.
Arkansas' two touchdowns both came on fourth down plays. In the second quarter the Hogs had fourth and one at the Bama 12. Alabama's defense bit on play action and Dick hit a wide open Andrew Davie for the score. Alex Tejada kick the point after and it was 21-7.
With nearly 11 minutes to play in the second quarter, it wasn't time for two-minute offense, but that's what Alabama delivered. Starting at its own 32, the Tide got back-to-back runs of 15 and 26 yards from Ingram to get to the Arkansas 27. The Razorbacks solved Ingram, holding him to a two-yard gain, and then Wilson misfired on a pass. On third and eight from the 25, Wilson got excellent protection and finally hit freshman wide receiver Julio Jones at the five. Jones broke a couple of tackles in taking it to the end zone.
That made it 28-7 and also was Wilson's 42nd career touchdown pass, an Alabama record.
The defense picked up the baton later in the second quarter. One thing that wasn't great in the game for Alabama (plenty of game practice notwithstanding) was kickoff coverage. Arkansas had good field position after most of Bama's eight kickoffs. Starting at the Razorbacks' 36, Dick had moved Arkansas deep into Alabama territory. But he misfired badly on a pass. Justin Woodall was the only possible recipient and the Tide junior made the most of his opportunity. He took the ball at Bama's 26 and raced down the left sidelines for the score. Dick was 0-2 on tackle opportunities after interceptions when Woodall juked him.
Alabama led 35-7, but had one more dramatic moment in the first half.
Arkansas was going to get the second half kickoff. When the Razorbacks got a first and goal at the Alabama one in the closing moments of the second quarter, almost everyone was thinking the Hogs could get back in the game with a touchdown just before halftime and (presumably) momentum and the ball at the start of the second half.
Instead, Alabama's defense had an excellent stand. On a day when the defense had its problems, the Tide was magnificent at the goalline. Two runs failed to gain, a pass was incomplete, and on fourth down the Razorbacks went for the touchdown and Michael Smith was stuffed by Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain for no gain.
The only thing worse for Arkansas than the end to the first half was the beginning of the second half. On the first play of the third quarter, Dick was intercepted again, Marquis Johnson making the theft with a fine play on a slant pass at the Arkansas 34. Two plays later Coffee had his second touchdown, going 31 yards to make it 42-7.
Those few Arkansas fans remaining with 11 minutes left in the game had an opportunity to call the hogs when the Razorbacks gambled and won on a fourth down play. From the Alabama 10 with fourth and six, back-up quarterback Tyler Wilson sprinted out to the right side and found a wide open Smith in the end zone, closing the gap to 42-14.
Alabama had been in back-up mode throughout the quarter. The last "soooeee" echo had barely died before the subs had some fun. After a Marquis Maze kickoff return to the 38, fourth tailback Roy Upchurch got the call at right tackle. He popped outside, was never touched, and went 62 yards for the game's final score.
The game went about as expected by reasonable analysis. Alabama has a good running game and Arkansas had proved vulnerable to the run. Bama had 35 rushes for 328 net yards, 9.4 yards per rush. Arkansas is having to live by the pass, and that can be dangerous. The Hogs completed 24 of 46 passes for 217 yards, but suffered four interceptions (Chris Rogers had the other Bama pick).
One surprise in the final statistics was that Arkansas had a 34:46 to 25:14 advantage in time of possession, but that was because several Alabama possessions were very quick scores and because the Tide got a couple of interception returns for touchdowns with no time of possession.
Even though Alabama had its problems on defense, Rolando McClain was in on eight tackles, Brandon Fanney on seven (including two tackles for loss), and Prince Hall six. Arneas, who has maintained he is a cornerback who just happens to return kicks, had two pass break-ups, was in on four tackles, and had a quarterback hurry on a blitz, in addition to his dramatic interception and touchdown.
Punter P.J. Fitzgerald had an excellent day. In addition to taking the key hit that kept the first drive alive, Firzgerald punted five times for a 45.2 average, had two punts inside the 20, and Arkansas had only 20 yards in returns.