On a chilly, rainy Saturday in front of a crowd of 72,337 in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Arkansas forced fumbles and played stifling defense against the Crimson Tide from start-to-finish.
But missed opportunities that saw the Razorbacks leave at least 10 points on the field proved to be costly in a 14-13 loss that extended their Southeastern Conference losing streak to 15 games.
Members of Arkansas’ 1964 national championship team were honored during a pre-game ceremony. Perhaps the karma of that team, which went 11-0 and defeated Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl, inspired this year’s team as Arkansas dominated the first half in every way imaginable, yet trailed 7-6 at halftime.
Arkansas held the Crimson Tide to just 111 yards of offense in the first half, including 13 yards rushing. The Razorbacks dominated time of possession 19:33-10:27. And the Razorbacks forced two fumbles, although they gave up the same number.
Just four plays into the game, Arkansas (3-3, 0-3 SEC) was in position to fire the game’s opening shot after Alabama fumbled a punt and Kody Walker recovered at the Crimson Tide 32.
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen led the team quickly inside the Alabama 10, but Walker, after catching a short pass from Allen, lost possession just before crossing the goal line and the ball rolled through the end zone for a touchback, giving Alabama the ball.
The Hogs marched from their 15 to the Alabama 26 with their second possession, but stalled on a third-and-7 shot to the end zone by Allen, too long for Demetrius Wilson. Adam McFain, taking over for Henson on field goals, lined up for a 43-yard try. But a high snap ruined that chance and the Hogs lost 9 yards on the play.
“Ball security wasn’t as tight as we’d like,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “Give Alabama credit for punching it out.”
Arkansas also missed a short field goal attempt on a high snap that also proved costly late in the first quarter, had a PAT blocked and failed to convert another Alabama fumbled punt into points.
The Razorbacks sat running back Alex Collins in the first quarter after the sophomore running back missed a workout during the open week. On his second carry of the game, he fumbled at his own 20 after Alabama (5-1, 2-1) missed a short field goal.
But even then Arkansas almost escaped damage when Tide quarterback Blake Sims’ pass drilled Razorback safety Alan Turner in the chest, but Turner could not make the interception.
Three plays later Alabama scored the game’s first touchdown as Sims was flushed out of the pocket and found T.J. Yeldon for 22 yards in the left flat. Yeldon fought to the goal line and reached the ball over for the score with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left in the second quarter.
Arkansas responded to drive 81 yards in 10 plays to score its first points against Alabama since 2011. The previous two seasons the Tide hung consecutive 52-0 losses on the Razorbacks.
Allen, who finished 21-of-40 for 246 yards, led the drive with a 21-yard strike to Keon Hatcher and 16 yards to A.J. Derby. He also picked up a key pass interference call on a pass that was under-thrown to Hunter Henry. Jonathan Williams capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:47 left in the first half, but Alabama blocked John Henson's extra point and left Arkansas trailing 7-6.
Both defenses played well in the second half, but Alabama seemed to turn it up a notch. Williams, who rushed for 78 yards in the first half, had just 5 yards in the second half on 4 carries.
Still, Arkansas took its first lead against Alabama since 2010 midway through the third quarter when Allen hit Derby on a short pass near the right sideline. Derby shook off a tackle attempt with a stiff arm and tip-toed down the right sideline 54 yards to give the Razorbacks a 13-7 lead. “The offense was able to do some things” Bielema said. “Derby made a big play there and the O-line did a lot of really good things today.”
The lead did not hold up, however. Alabama took advantage of a short field to drive 56 yards in 8 plays. The Tide moved to the Arkansas 6, and faced a third down at the start of the fourth quarter.
Bielema ran onto the field prior to the ball being snapped, running as far as the 20-yard line marker and almost to the hash markers to signal a time out. But the officials never saw him and the play went on. Sims flicked a short pass to DeAndrew White for the touchdown and a 14-13 lead.
“I guess next time I’ll try a cartwheel,” Bielema said of not being seen signaling a time out. “It’s frustrating. I was in the middle of the play. I was 20 yards away from being in their backfield, so I slowed down. I tried to get the officials’ attention, but it didn’t happen.”
Arkansas’ defense gave the team chances over the final 12 minutes of the game, stopping Alabama time and again. But the Crimson Tide defense simply locked Arkansas’ receivers down and didn't allow any separation.
The Razorbacks had one final chance with just under three minutes left, but Allen’s pass intended for Williams was intercepted by Alabama’s Landon Collins to seal the Tide win.
“The offense has made strides, BA (Brandon Allen) has made strides,” Bielema said. “That is as stout a defense as we’ve faced this season. We’ve got to be able to sustain what we did in the first half for the entire game.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban acknowledged the Arkansas defense. The Tide gained only 227 yards and could not find top receiver Amari Cooper in the passing game. "Defensively for them, they did a really good job," Saban said. "Their quickness up front really affected us, we missed some blocking assignments throughout the night and couldn’t finish blocks like we wanted too. We dodged a bullet early, we only had six plays in the first quarter, got some huge stops on defense to get out of things.
“Arkansas has got a good team, they really do. They are better than people think. They were up 28-14 on Texas A&M in the fourth quarter. Our guys did a really good today stopping their running game."
The Hogs made just 89 yards on 39 rushes, with 30 yards coming on Allen scrambles. The Tide disrupted the Arkansas blocking in the second half.
"Their formation really makes it difficult to pressure them or give them bad plays," Saban said. "We really stopped the run by playing straight up with our 3-4 defense. Our guys upfront did a good job in tackling. There was a moment towards the end of the first half where we had a chance to get the ball with good field position, they run a draw play for about 15 yards. Some of their yards rushing came on quarterback scrambles. Our defense did a great job on their running game, and again it was primarily because we stayed in our base 3-4.
“Their quarterback did a really good job for them. He’s played well for them all year, and tonight he made some good throws and reads. There were a few times we had him sacked in the pocket and he scrambled out of it, sometimes for positive yardage and other times found people open."
The Razorbacks will look to end their SEC streak next week in Little Rock when they take on Georgia at 3 p.m. in War Memorial Stadium.
How They Scored
Alabama 0 7 0 7 — 14
Arkansas 0 6 7 0 — 13
ALA — Yeldon 22 pass from Sims (Griffith kick), 8:40.
ARK — Williams 3 run (kick blocked), 4:53
ARK — Derby 54 pass from Allen (Henson kick), 4:43
ALA — White 6 pass from Sims (Griffith kick), 12:36
Hunter Henry draws a pass interference penalty.
Kody Walker prepares to pounce on a muffed punt.
Martrell Spaight makes a diving tackle.
Photos by Jason Ivester, Hawgs Illustrated
Watch Crazy One-Handed Catch!