Alabama Survives To Win

Robert Lester after his 2nd interception in the 3rd quarter. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Alabama showed why they are the defending national champions and #1 team in the country on Saturday.

After going down 20-7 with 5:04 left in the 3rd quarter, Alabama scored 17 unanswered points to avoid defeat and improved to 4-0 on the season.

Alabama made a lot of mistakes in the 1st half and didn’t capitalize on their opportunities to take control of the game. Arkansas had a lot of miscues as well. Ryan Mallett made a lazy pass in the 2nd quarter and was intercepted in the back of the end zone by Robert Lester.

Alabama’s secondary was shell shocked by Arkansas on the first drive of the game. Two blown coverages in a row led to a quick Arkansas touchdown. I really felt like Arkansas would score if they got the ball first and that’s exactly what happened. It immediately gave them the quick momentum that you don’t want to see. The young secondary struggled for most of the first half while they allowed 250 yards in the air, but they did a better job in the second half.

Alabama didn’t have any problems moving the ball for most of the game, but it was their mistakes that kept them from scoring. Greg McElroy tied a career high with 2 interceptions, both coming in the first half. They could have taken control of the game in the 2nd quarter, but two interceptions and a bad spot swung momentum back to the Razorbacks who capitalized with a touchdown right before half time.

Here’s a look at the stats by half for both teams.

Arkansas stats by half:

1st Half:  35 plays, 311 yards, 1 FG, 2 TD, 1 INT, 15:18
2nd Half: 22 plays, 98 yards, 1 FG, 0 TD, 2 INT, 10:48

Alabama stats by half:

1st Half: 29 plays, 236 yards, 0 FG, 1 TD, 2 INT, 14:41
2nd Half: 37 plays, 175 yards, 1 FG, 2 TD, 0 INT
, 19:11

Alabama stepped up in the second half and looked like the team that won a national title last season. They didn’t make mistakes when they had no room for error. The defense got more pressure on Mallett and he looked more uncomfortable in the pocket. It was clear that he was not enjoying seeing linebackers and linemen in his face nearly every down. The pressure disrupted Mallett’s decision making and led to two interceptions.

The most crucial stop of the 2nd half came on an Arkansas drive that yielded a field goal. Safety Mark Barron sacked Mallett for a 7-yard loss that put the Razorbacks in a 3rd and 16 situation. It put the Hogs in a tough spot and they were forced to kick a field goal after an unsuccessful third down play. The score ended up being 20-7 rather than a seemingly daunting 24-7 lead.

It just seemed like a touchdown at that point would have stuck a dagger into the Crimson Tide. Granted, Alabama came back to finish with 24 points but forcing the field goal in that situation was a big stop. It was Arkansas’ best drive of the 2nd half.

Alabama sealed the game after a Dre Kirkpatrick interception at the Alabama 35-yard line. Saban had to make the call to go for it on 4th-and-1 on their own 44-yard-line, but it was the right call whether or not Alabama didn’t convert. McElroy notched the first down on a QB sneak thus ending the game. Another big comeback for this team that we will perhaps look back on at a later point this season.

You had a feeling that Alabama was going to come back and win the game and it showed on the field. Alabama stayed cool and collective while coming back from a 13-point deficit and Arkansas seemed to be waiting for Alabama to make their way back into the game.

Ingram on his TD run in the 1st half. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The defense against Arkansas’ offense was mostly keeping them off the field. The Tide dominated time of possession in the 2nd half. The Razorbacks offense still moved the ball when they didn’t have dropped passes or throw interceptions. Alabama just prevented the Arkansas offense from gaining momentum. Arkansas choked. Plain and simple. They had the game in their hands, but Alabama’s determined play stole the game from them.

You have to be happy as an Alabama fan with the way the defense stepped up in the second half. The whole team played the style of football that we’re all used to seeing. Alabama is battle tested and led by veteran players who know how to win in the most dire of situations.

The offense is still the strength of this team, but that’s not such a bad thing. The offense can dictate the game and keep the defense fresh. They have to do a better job of executing than they did against Arkansas, though. The defense is good enough to get stops, but they can’t be relied upon. They fared a little better blitzing in the second half, but this team still doesn’t generate a lot of push. They should, at the very least, improve from week to week. Alabama held Arkansas to under 70 yards rushing, but Arkansas is not a very good running team.

This was Alabama’s 28th regular season win in a row (18 is the current streak) for the Tide. You can expect Alabama to be in a lot of close, hard fought games for the remainder of the schedule, but this team has confidence. They never feel like they are out of a game. It’s nice to have that feeling.

Box Score Bits:

  • Robert Lester finished the game with 2 INTs
  • Mark Ingram gained 80 of his 157 rushing yards against Arkansas after a defender made contact with him. Ingram has gained almost 50 percent of his rushing yards this season after contact. (via this article)
  • Greg McElroy was excellent in 2009 when Alabama found itself behind in the fourth quarter, and Saturday versus Arkansas was no different. McElroy went 6-for-9 in the fourth quarter and helped lead the Tide back from a late deficit. (via this article)
  • Alabama finished with 8 penalties. They had only been averaging 5 per game until this contest.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at jtmcadams@aol.com. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.

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