Top 10 Revisited (Alabama)
1. Ryan Mallett. It's where we start every week. And the start was superb, a two-play, 74-yard touchdown drive (can you call two plays a drive?) on the game's first possession to put 76,808 into orbit. But it didn't last. Oh, it lasted into the second half, but not very deep into the second half. The Hogs didn't convert a third down after halftime and Mallett threw two of his three interceptions in the fourth quarter with the game hanging in the balance. Mallett did some good things. He didn't play badly, but he didn't make the winning plays. Of course, quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame. Not being able to run the ball put Mallett under the gun. He was still fun to watch. He gave the Hogs a chance. He did scare the heck out of Alabama and make it a game the Hogs could have won. That's the good news and the bad all in item No. 1.
2. Pass protection. This was not a problem, actually. The Hogs improved here. Perhaps it was a wash. Ryan Mallett took two sacks, and only 7 yards in losses. The Hogs sacked Greg McElroy three times, two by Tenarius Wright. Mallett's protection was better in the first half when the passing game was especially crisp. There was not as much time after intermission when Alabama added some pressures. But this was as close to a stalemate as the Hogs could have asked for in the protection game.
3. The atmosphere. It was up-up-and-away good, perhaps as good as its ever been in Fayetteville. First, there was a record crowd in the stadium, 76,808. Among those were over 300 from the media, no doubt another record. There were several thousand fans on the berm to the northeast of the stadium. The crowd was outstanding. There were plenty of Hog Calls. The students made it great and the old folks didn't hurt anything. It's hard to imagine a better atmosphere and it no doubt pushed the Hogs to a higher level. The atmosphere was good all week with a tent city springing up outside the stadium so students could get the good seats when the gates opened for their section.
4. Intangibles. The Hogs had some things fall their way. They competed as hard as could be expected. They made plays. They just didn't make enough. They did a lot of the little things right. They did not wilt under the pressure of a big day. It was the first battle of top 10 teams in the Ozarks in several decades and the Hogs responded to the challenge in most ways. Arkansas coaches have harped on mental toughness all through the winter, spring, summer and into the fall. Perhaps they didn't quite have the mental edge in the fourth quarter. As far as intangibles, that's as big as they come. Overall, the program has improved in the two plus seasons under Bobby Petrino. And the state is unified behind him. The defense has improved this season. I'll list that in the intangibles, an overall plus as far as the state of the program.
5. The Ultimate Matchup. It was fun to watch Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino match wits when the Hogs had the ball. Surely, there were wins for both of them throughout an interesting day. Afterwards, Petrino noted the talent Arkansas brought to the table at quarterback and in the skilled positions. Petrino congratulated Alabama and said, "We can't throw interceptions." He wanted to look at video to see what happened, explaining his eyes were down the field and didn't want to comment. It was a great chess match. If you want to pick a winner and loser here, you probably have to stick with the final score. Coaching counts for something. It always does. It was good on both sidelines.
6. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. In the end, they were too much for the Hogs. They were the difference in the game. Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner a year ago, was superb with 24 runs for 157 yards. Richardson had eight for 85. They were stronger than the Arkansas linebackers and safeties assigned to get them to the ground. They were as good as advertised and better than the Arkansas running backs. As much as anything, it's the reason the Tide gets to stay No. 1.
7. The Arkansas wideouts. Arkansas did fine in this area. Jarius Wright stepped up with his best game of the year. Greg Childs made some big plays, too, but he got banged up during his longest play, a 31-yard catch when his leg was pinned underneath him as he went down. The key play might have been a Joe Adams penalty that offset a personal foul when the Alabama defensive back slung him out of bounds for a late hit. Both drew personal fouls to offset. Adams grabbed a face mask when he was going down out of bounds, a critical mistake on the first play of the fourth quarter. It wiped out what would have been a first and 10 at the Alabama 49. Again, Arkansas did fine, just not good enough to win. There were a few drops, a few missed assignments. They matched Julio Jones and Marquis Maze, the Alabama wideouts, but probably didn't get a clear win in this area.
8. Physical presence. Alabama gets the nod here. Ingram/Richardson were too physical for the Arkansas linebackers and safeties. The Hogs did alright and were much improved over a year ago, but this is where the Tide can trump most teams. They easily had the most physical running backs and linebackers in the game. Arkansas did fine as far as the line play. The defensive line didn't get knocked back consistently. But the Alabama defensive front did not give against an Arkansas running game that must improve. However, the Arkansas offensive line was not whipped in pass protection, perhaps what happened too much last year at Tuscaloosa.
9. Cornerback play. Alabama did enough to win. Both teams won and lost some battles here. It wasn't the difference in the game. Ramon Broadway and Isaac Madison competed and were not whipped and they had to battle two great wide receivers. Arkansas also got some rest while Darius Winston and Greg Gatson played a series. The Hogs made plays against the Alabama cornerbacks, but Joe Adams was held in check by tight man coverage by Dre Kirkpatrick. The Alabama cornerback made nine tackles on the day and was solid.
10. Turnovers. It turned out to be the key statistic of the day. Arkansas had three, Alabama two. The fact that the Hogs forced two Greg McElroy interceptions in the first half could have been pivotal, had Ryan Mallett avoided three. A key play in the game was when McElroy fumbled while being chased by Tenarius Wright, but Lavunce Askew couldn't control the loose ball before sliding out of bounds into the Alabama bench. It could have been a critical point of the game. The resulting field position break might have resulted in a touchdown. The Hogs did drive the ball on their next possession, converting enough plays to start to probably earned a TD with a short field. In the end, Mallett's two interceptions in the fourth quarter prevented the Hogs from responding like they did last week at Georgia. So many of the stats were even ... including total yards at 421 apiece. If the Hogs had been at least even in turnovers, perhaps they would have won.
State of the Hogs: Top 10 Revisited (Bama)
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