'A Good, Hard-earned Victory'

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas didn't turn in a dominant defensive performance against Alabama on Saturday, allowing Crimson Tide tailbacks Ray Hudson and Kenneth Darby to lead a ground attack that churned out 271 rushing yards.

The Hogs didn't record an electric offensive effort either, collecting season-lows in points (27), total yards (333) and passing yards (122) while quarterback Matt Jones eluded intense pressure all afternoon.

But the Hogs squeezed out a 27-10 win in their Southeastern Conference opener against the Crimson Tide by playing mistake-free football and making important plays when they needed them. Arkansas scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, committed one turnover and only one penalty against Alabama, grinding out a game that was decided by field position swings in the second half. Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said it was a valuable experience for his Hogs, which improved to 3-1 and 1-0 in SEC play. It's something he hopes they'll take with them when they play their first road game of the season Saturday at No. 16 Florida.

"It was a good, hard-earned victory," Nutt said. "We needed to win one like that. It will give us confidence on down the road to be in a game like that."

The win was Arkansas' second in a row against the Crimson Tide after last season's 34-31, two-overtime win in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Hogs have beaten Alabama in consecutive seasons for the second time in school history. The Danny Ford-led Hogs beat the Crimson Tide 17-16 in 1997 and Arkansas won 42-6 in Fayetteville during Nutt's first season in 1998.

But Saturday's win was enormous because of the daunting schedule the Hogs face this month. In addition to the Gators, the Razorbacks play at No. 8 Auburn (Oct. 16) and against No. 3 Georgia (Oct. 23). Florida is fresh off a 20-3 win against Kentucky in which tailback Ciatrick Fason rambled for a career-high 210 yards. Fason and quarterback Chris Leak will test the Razorbacks with an offense that produced 262 rushing and 261 passing yards against the Wildcats.

"It's hard for me to talk about three (games) because it just upsets you so much," Nutt said. "You can only go one at a time. We have our hands so full right now. That was a big step (Saturday) afternoon. Now this is the next big step. They each get bigger.

"You've just got to roll up your sleeves and we're excited to take this group on the road."

A blue-collar mentality benefited Arkansas on Saturday in a highlight-starved chess match that Nutt referred to as a "beautiful" thing.

The Hogs finally delivered the back-breaking blow in the fourth quarter when tailback Peyton Hillis scored his second touchdown to give them a 21-10 lead. Nutt also credited Jones for his game-changing, 50-yard run on the drive and tailback De'Arrius Howard's 65 rushing yards after senior DeCori Birmingham was slowed by a bruised back.

"That just shows you our togetherness and our toughness," said Jones, who threw for 122 yards and rushed for 60. "This team is really tight and really close, so if we can keep the game close in the fourth quarter, we've definitely got a chance."

Arkansas added key stops and big plays on defense and special teams, holding the Tide scoreless after Hudson's 63-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Linebacker Sam Olajubutu started his first game of the season and collected seven tackles, filling holes and hitting tailbacks. Defensive lineman Jeremy Harrell shook off an ankle injury to lead the Hogs with nine stops. And cornerback Darius Vinnett turned in his best performance with eight tackles on defense and special teams.

"I feel like we should be 4-0," said Nutt, shaking off Arkansas' 22-20 loss to then-No. 7 Texas on Sept. 11. "This group is very mature and they're good listeners. They love to play. I think they're competitors. They really want to win in the worst way."

Arkansas proved that by outscoring Alabama 20-0 in the first and fourth quarters, an area it has had plenty of success all season. In fact, the Hogs have combined to outscore their first four opponents 72-19 in the two quarters and are the only SEC team that hasn't allowed a point in the fourth quarter all season (30-0).

Nutt said he'd like to see similar production in the second and third quarters. But he's impressed with the way the Hogs have started and finished games.

"It's funny, it seems like the first quarter and fourth quarters have been our best quarters," Nutt said. "We want to do something in between, but if you had a choice, I'll pick the first and the fourth. It's how you start and how you finish."

Now the Hogs hope the lessons learned in their 3-1 start are beneficial down the road. "I'm glad we faced some adversity this week," Howard said. "We went into a slump, so that won't be nothing new for us. Even if we do get down and fall behind.

"It's going to be tough (Saturday). But whoever will win the special teams battle and whoever takes care of the ball will come out with the victory."

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