Arkansas senior Matt Jones seemed to struggle throwing. And Jones did find it hard breaking free on most runs against the Alabama defenders. But when it mattered most, Jones again delivered.
On the Razorbacks' 12-play, 80-yard drive which ate up much of the fourth quarter clock, Jones was the difference. Facing a third-and-4 from the Hogs' 26-yard line, Jones ran 50 yards on a option keeper. It was vintage Jones, outracing the defensive end to the corner, then turning it upfield for a big gain. Another 9-yard option run by Jones moved Arkansas down to 'Bama 5, setting up Peyton Hillis' game-clinching TD run.
Jones would finish just 7-of-12 passing for 122 yards with 1 TD and 1 interception while adding 60 rushing yards on 9 carries.
While not always pretty, Jones did take care of business when it counted.
Peyton Hillis continues to shine. Hillis caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Jones with just :49 left in the first half and then pounded in a 7-yard TD run with 3:02 remaining in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. On 10 totes, Hillis gained 34 yards and added 2 catches for 24 yards.
With DeCori Birmingham on the bench for most of the second half with a slight hip pointer injury, De'Arrius Howard carried the tailback load for most of the final 30 minutes. Howard would gain 64 yards on 21 carries -- just a 3.0 average -- but had several big runs and added an exclamation point with a 5-yard TD run with 1:12 to play. Birmingham was very effective in the first half and finished with 9 carries for 53 yards, including three rushes for 38 yards on Arkansas' final drive of the first half.
Cedric Washington made an acrobatic 41-yard reception on Arkansas' first possession of the game to set up the Hogs' first score. Covered well by Alabama free safety Roman Harper, Washington was able to steal the ball off of Harper's hip as the two collided towards the turf.
All in all, Arkansas receivers and tight ends made just six catches, but a couple -- including Washington's -- were clutch. Marcus Monk's 23-yard reception late in the second quarter was a big play on the Razorbacks' final scoring drive of the half.
At times, the Crimson Tide defensive line -- led by ends Mark Anderson and Wallace Gilberry -- appeared to control Arkansas' front five on offense. But the Razorbacks stepped up in the trenches on two key drives, right before the half and late in the fourth quarter.
As for pass protection, this may have been Arkansas' weakest effort yet. Jones suffered his first three sacks of the season and Alabama was able to put constant pressure on most rollouts and dropbacks. But one big positive from this group was the fact that just one false-start penalty was called the entire game.
Alabama tailbacks Ray Hudson and Kenneth Darby had plenty of big holes to run through against the Arkansas front. Hudson gained 170 yards on 20 carries -- including a 63-yard TD scamper on a sweep left -- and Darby added 16 carries for 51 yards. Noseguard Jeremy Harrell did lead the Razorbacks with nine tackles, but the Tide finished with 271 yards on the ground on 46 carries for a whopping 5.9 average.
Arkansas' front was better against the pass, putting good pressure on Alabama quarterback Marc Guillon on most pass attempts.
Sam Olajubutu caused and recovered a Darby fumble with 11:18 left in the second quarter as Alabama was driving deep into Razorbacks territory. Olajubutu also finished with seven tackles and nearly intercepted a Guillon pass attempt in the fourth quarter.
While there were some big plays from Olajubutu, the Arkansas linebackers often allowed Hudson and Darby to break through for big yardage.
Even though Alabama didn't try to pass much, Saturday's game was still the best effort from this group yet this season.
Cornerback Michael Coe intercepted a Guillon pass with 6:53 remaining in the first quarter immediately after Arkansas had turned the ball over to the Crimson Tide. Coe also added four tackles and a pass breakup and cornerback Darius Vinnett made a key knockdown early in the second half on one of Alabama's few long pass attempts
Jacob Skinner improved on his punting as the game went on, booting a 40-yarder down to the Alabama 7-yard line and a 46-yarder on his final two kicks. Skinner averaged 37.3 yards on seven punts and pinned Alabama inside the 20 twice.
Chris Balseiro was 3 for 4 on extra-point attempts, suffering his first missed PAT of the season. His first attempt was a knuckle ball that barely got over the crossbar.
Arkansas' return coverage on both kickoffs and punts was very solid as 'Bama's Brandon Brooks averaged just 3.0 yards on punt returns and 19.5 on kickoffs.
Arkansas coach Houston Nutt had to make some key decisions in this one. Twice facing a fourth-and-1 from just across midfield in the third quarter, Nutt chose to punt Alabama deep on both possessions and the moves paid off. On another fourth-and-1 from the Crimson Tide 15, Nutt chose to go for the first down instead of kicking the field goal to go ahead by 7 points. The move paid off again as Arkansas converted the fourth down and eventually got a Peyton Hillis 7-yard TD run to go ahead, 20-10.
With the Razorbacks' offense struggling late in the first half, Nutt also made all the right calls on a 6-play, 84-yard drive which put Arkansas ahead, 14-10, and gave the Hogs a momentum lift heading into the lockerroom.
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