TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama escaped at Arkansas last year despite gaining just 227 yards of offense. Arkansas couldn’t do the same with just 220 yards at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen praised both defenses after Alabama shackled the Arkansas running game in a 27-14 victory Saturday night. He said it best with a simple, “Our offense didn’t do enough. Our defense did a great job. Gave us field position. We couldn’t do anything.”
It wasn’t as close this time. Alabama limped out of Fayetteville with a 14-13 victory that left Nick Saban upset that Tide fans were upset. This time, it’s probably the other way around with Saban happy with a strong finish and Arkansas feeling frustrated with very little offense.
The Hogs made 15 yards on the opening play when Allen lined up in an empty backfield with five wide receivers. He raised up to find Jojo Robinson open. There was not much open the rest of the way. Dominique Reed danced and fought on a completion on the Hogs’ final plays, going 54 yards for a touchdown.
There was hardly anything in between. The Hogs made 151 yards against a great Alabama defense on the 55 plays between those two successes. They were 5 of 16 on third downs against a Tide defense that had an impressive 21 three and outs in the last two games.
The Arkansas offense held Alabama to a season low point total, but got some help on two missed field goals. The Tide had scored at least 34 in every game with a high of 37 twice, including the loss to Ole Miss.
The Hogs collapsed at the end after almost making it to the fourth quarter with a 7-3 lead. It all came tumbling down after Santos Ramriez bit on a Calvin Ridley’s double move and the Hogs failed on a fake punt.
The first mistake resulted in the Arkansas secondary giving up another killer pass play. The fake field goal set up a 43-yard touchdown drive by the Tide for the cushion.
Ridley slipped past Ramirez on the 81-yard pass play with 1:39 left in the third quarter. It erased a great defensive effort by the Hogs that was boosted by two missed field goals by the Tide and a cheap touchdown late in the first half when Ramirez intercepted a tipped Jake Coker pass and left the Hogs just 12 yards.
Allen cashed that with a 6-yard keeper and then a 4-yard pass to Drew Morgan, faking Cyrus Jones with a step towards a block. He was all alone in the back of the end zone for Allen with 1:29 left in the half.
The Hogs made it to halftime with the lead for the first time ever at Bryant-Denny Stadium when Adam Griffifth missed a 48-yard field goal on the final play.
Ultimately, Alabama’s defense was much better than what the Hogs could muster despite limiting Derrick Henry to just 95 yards on 27 carries. Henry did punctuate the Tide victory with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:44 left. Until then, Arkansas linebackers Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw punished Henry more than he could punish the Hogs.
Ellis, the junior middle linebacker, finished with 14 tackles. Greenlaw, his running mate on the weakside, added eight tackles. Ellis praised Greenlaw.
“We did some really good things,” Ellis said. “We are getting better, but we didn’t execute in some key moments and that got us.
“We were excited to be up at halftime. They missed the field goal and it was a big boost. But we knew it was going to take another great half against Alabama and we didn’t do that.
“The way we look at it, if they didn’t score in the second half, we are going to win the game. We didn’t do that.
The Arkansas offensive line never blocked the brilliant Alabama front. Alex Collins made just 26 yards on 12 carries. His long was only 5 yards. Mostly, he got one and two. There was no movement on first down.
“Our game is built around (running well) on first down,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. “You have to have it manageable on third down and we didn’t. Alabama has one of the best defenses I’ve seen in the last 20 years. They are very difficult to run on and then they do some aggressive techniques on the back end. They are well coached.
“We are devastated because of what we did in the first half. Every one of our players, our coaches came here expecting success. It’s frustrating. Obviously, frustration can go to a lot of different levels and places.”
Bielema moved down the sideline to get an angle at checking the Alabama cornerback on the fake punt before allowing Toby Baker to try his run. Baker seemed timid as he started to his right. Maybe he was making sure the Tide cleared out on that side, retreating for a return. But it did not look like he was committed to the fake.
“We just weren’t getting much done on offense,” he said. “We thought they had a cornerback on that side bail out. We thought Toby could slide out there. We just wanted to go for it.”
That followed Coker’s bomb to Ridley, something Bielema said the coaches talked about in the break just before that possession. But he’s not sure the double move they talked about was relayed to Ramirez.
“We did go over that just before the play,” Bielema said. “That’s something they do, the double move backed up in that situation. I was flipping back and forth (between offensive and defensive communication) and don’t know if that got to Santos. Obviously, he’s a young player making his third or fourth start at free safety. He’ll learn from that.”
The Hogs had only 44 yards on 25 running plays.
“First down success is a big part of our game,” Bielema said. “We can’t do that. It leaves us too tough a road to hoe.”
Allen said, “We couldn’t run it. And, we never got in a groove throwing. We didnt’ have anything working and our defense played good. They gave us great field position. It’s just tough when you are in third and long. We just have to do better on first down. I should have checked out of some things to help us on first down so we had third and manageable.
“Alabama did a great job of changing their coverages. They had a lot of two-man coverages with a guy trailing. We found a few things.
“They did a great job on Hunter Henry. They didn’t bracket him, but they definitely had a good plan on Hunter.”
Allen said his interception came when he was a bit soft on a throw for Dominique Reed.
“It was a great play on the guy underneath, but I definitely could have put it on Dominique better,” he said. “The biggest thing all night, the offense didn’t do enough. We needed more plays and we put our defense in a bind.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban praised Allen, calling him “elusive” in the pocket.
“He was really hard to sack,” Saban said. “We did a good job of pressuring him, but he got out of there a couple of times on us and hurt us a few times with the scramble for some first downs.
“All in all, I thought our defense played extremely well in the game. I thought we moved the ball effectively on offense. We just didn’t finish a couple of times in the red zone.
“We had a tough game with these guys last year, and we know what kind of team they are. They’re well coached, and they play with a lot of toughness.”
The Hogs hit the bye week at 2-4. They had some momentum with a road victory at Tennessee, but sit at 1-2 in the SEC after playing away from Fayetteville for the third straight week. They play host to Auburn on Oct. 24.
“We couldn’t run it, we couldn’t throw it,” Bielema said. “But I think we are a better team in week six than we were in week one. Now we have six games to determine our future.”