One thing was clear on Saturday - Nick Saban's Alabama program is way ahead of what Bobby Petrino inherited at the University of Arkansas.
The No. 9 Crimson Tide (4-0, 1-0) delivered three first-quarter haymakers to the Razorbacks and just kept slugging away throughout en route to a 49-14 thrashing in the two teams' SEC opener before a crowd that started out as 72,315 fans at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
"Very pleased and proud of our boys this afternoon," Saban said. We came out with a lot of intensity and were really able to find an advantage up front on offense."
The rout - the first game of a stretch in which Arkansas is playing four straight Top 10 teams - included Alabama taking two interceptions back for touchdowns and the home team being stopped on its one-yard line - all in the first half as Alabama raced out to a 35-7 lead by the break.
"We have a tough schedule ahead of us," Petrino said. "We are going to really have to learn from this. I felt like going into the game our players were ready. I thought they were in a good emotional state and mental state, but we just hurt ourselves and took ourselves out of it. When you throw two picks for touchdowns and get stopped on the one-yard line, that's a 21-point swing."
Arkansas (2-1, 0-1), which had last weekend off due to a postponement at Texas because of Hurricane Ike, finally got its first turnover of the season late in the game and that resulted in true freshmen Tyler Wilson's first career touchdown pass.
But the game had long been decided by that time in part because UA quarterback, Casey Dick, who had passed for over 300 yards in each of his first two games, threw a career-high 3 picks before Wilson – who also tossed one - entered to finish up.
Dick was 20-of-37 for 190 yards while Wilson - becoming the 16th true freshmen to play this season for Arkansas - was 4-of-7 for 27 yards - both with one touchdown toss.
"They (Dick's two interceptions that resulted in touchdowns) were both bad plays and he threw them both late out in the flats," Petrino said. "He was flat footed when he threw them. That is not something he has been doing in practice."
Dick, who missed two tackles after his tosses that would have prevented the scores, took the blame.
"We can't give up 14 points on two stupid throws," Dick said. "It's my fault. I have to look at the film and get better. When you make bad throws like that, you just feel horrible. Some days people have bad days at work. This was one of those days."
Wilson, seeing his first action while ditching a possible redshirt, got sacked twice in his brief time in the game.
"We brought him into the game because he does really well out of the shotgun," Petrino said. "He got pressured and didn't get to his hot reads quick enough. We've got to keep bringing him along."
Razorback junior tailback Michael Smith was really the only offensive spark on the day with 91 yards rushing and a 10-yard TD catch among his 6 catches for 67 yards.
"I was proud of the way Michael Smith played," Petrino said. "He played well for us. We need to get (the other running backs) going."
Alabama scored on its first possession with the help of a running into the punter penalty, Glen Coffee ran for 87 yards the second time the Tide had the ball and then Javier Arenas returned a pick 63 yards for a score all before the first quarter ended.
"All week coach (Saban) was talking about coming out firing and hitting them in the mouth quick," Arenas said. "I think we did that; it seemed like they knew we were here to play a little football from the get-go."
That third TD had Alabama up 21-0 with 53 seconds left in the opening quarter.
"You can't throw two interceptions for touchdowns and we have to stop the run," Petrino said. "We had guys there to make plays and missed some tackles and their backs ran hard."
Although Arkansas steadied itself for a minute on Dick's touchdown pass to Andrew Davie, Bama ripped right back down the field.
Alabama QB John Parker Wilson hit big time freshmen wideout Julio Jones for a 25-yard TD pass to send the Crimson Tide ahead 28-7 with 8:31 left before intermission.
Wilson was just 6-of-14 passing for 73 yards on the day, but the Alabama rushing attack rolled up nearly 328 yards rushing.
That included 162 on 10 carries by Coffee for Bama, who had a 402-309 yard total offense yardage.
"They (Alabama's offensive line) is big and physical," Petrino said. "Both of their tight ends do an excellent job for them. Wwe just need to make sure we fit well and we tackle, play hard and get more guys to the football."
It grew to 35-7 just over two minutes later when a second Dick pass was picked for a TD – this time Justin Woodall taking it 73 yards untouched.
Several thousand fans hit the exits at halftime, right after the Razorbacks failed to score after getting a 1st-and-goal at the Bama 2.
Several more left the stadium when Dick's third interception set up Coffey's 31-yard dash to paydirt that had Bama cruising 42-7 less than a minute into the third quarter.
"I didn't like the way we finished the game," Petrino said. "I'm not happy with the way we came out of the locker room at halftime."
There was no other scoring in the third quarter, but Wilson completed a touchdown pass 10-yard touchdown to Smith on fourth down with 10:59 left after Ramon Broadway's interception.
Roy Upchuch grabbed the moment right back by going 62 yards around right untouched just 23 seconds later to pile up the final points and make it 49-14.
It is officially the biggest margin of the win in the series because Alabama's 43-3 win over Arkansas in 1993 was forfeited due to the Tide's NCAA violations.
There would be no fourth quarterback comeback as the Razorbacks had to use in beating thought-to-be over-matched foes in Western Illinois (28-24) and Louisiana-Monroe (28-27).
Arkansas true freshmen kick-off returner Dennis Johnson was a busy man with 6 returns for 142 yards on the day.
"Dennis did a nice job, broke some tackles and hit it hard," Petrino said. "We did improve in that area, but we need to make sure we are not having that many returns."
It gets no easier for Arkansas next week, who visits Texas in Austin in the second game of a stretch where all four of its foes are ranked in the Top 10.
Kick-off is set for 2:30 p.m.
"We definitely need to learn from it," Petrino said. "We do have a lot of young guys out there and we are making mistakes...We have a long way to go to be a good football team."
Smith echoed those sentiments.
"We know it doesn't get easier from here," Smith said. "It's extremely frustrating, but we have to find a way to regroup."
Photos by Marc F. Henning
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino reacts to thje action.
Tight end Andrew Davie hauls in Arkansas' first touchdown of the day.
Michael Smith picks up some of his 158 yards total offense during the game.
Freshman wideout Greg Childs makes a play.
Jarius Wright, like Childs a true freshmen wideout from Warren, made the first two catches of his career.
Freshman defender Jerico Nelson drags down Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Wilson saw the first action of his career in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game.
Freshman kick returner Dennis Johnson was busy on Saturday with 6 returns for 142 yards with a long of 41.
Alabama 49, Arkansas 14
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