Some teams are good, some get lucky. Alabama was both on Saturday against Arkansas.
By STEVE EUBANKSFS South
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Every team gets a few lucky breaks along the way. Great teams capitalize on them.
It's too early to know just how great Alabama is, but so far it has looked dominant in every facet of the game. The Tide have taken advantage of every break that's come their way.
A 52-0 drubbing of Arkansas in Razorback Stadium was a perfect case-in-point.
This one looked a lot more interesting on the schedule than it did on the field. Before the season, it was the best matchup of Week 3 — a divisional rivalry of nationally ranked teams. Once they squared off on the field, it looked like a fight that should have stopped in the second round.
When the clock hit zero, the Hogs has suffered their first shutout at home since 1966, the first shutout of any kind since 1995 and their worst conference loss since entering the Southeastern Conference.
How did it happen?
Well, in addition to Alabama being the best team in the country, Arkansas was playing without star quarterback Tyler Wilson, who suffered a head injury in last week’s surprising loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
Wilson dressed and threw passes in warmups, but it was obvious that he wouldn't take a snap. Midfield for the coin toss was as close to the action as he would get. Wilson donned a ball cap and a headset before the opening kickoff and played head cheerleader the rest of the afternoon.
"I think everybody should have a tremendous amount of understanding for Arkansas' circumstances," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said afterward. "Tyler Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the country and the whole program is built around the guy. I mean everything: the whole team is built around him.
“They are really good when he's playing. I'm sure it's difficult for their players to know that here's the guy who can take our team to the Promised Land, and now he's not out there. It's tough. But I think when he comes back, Arkansas is going to have a really good football team."
Until then, Arkansas is not very good, a fact Wilson all but admitted in a postgame rant.
"It wasn't pretty to sit on the sidelines and watch as a player," Wilson said. "It sucks I can't do anything about it. Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Absolutely. As a leader, it sucks to see people not do their jobs and to see things go wrong.
"There have been a lot of people (jumping) off the bandwagon and it is my job to keep everyone in this organization and this team together. I am going to make sure of it going forward.
"We've got a big game against Rutgers next week. I am going to do everything in my power to be a part of it and be the starting quarterback when we run out onto the field. And most importantly to get a win. You have to start with one before you can get the rest of them. I give you my word: I am going to do the best I can to make that happen."
Wilson has a lot of work ahead of him. When he looks at the film of Saturday’s game, he will notice that the Arkansas defense wore down against the size of the Alabama offensive line and the speed and strength of their backs.
And he'll see that all the bounces went Alabama's way.
An early 10-point swing, for example, could be attributed to Arkansas long snapper Alan D'Appollonio, who sailed one over the head of punter Dylan Breeding, leading to an Alabama touchdown. Two series later, D'Appollonio snapped another one high that threw off the timing of Zach Hocker's 41-yard field goal attempt. The ball hit the upright and fell back into the end zone.
Then, of course, there was the weather. Players, coaches, and all 72,000 fans endured a steady drizzle interrupted by the occasional downpour. That turned the game into a slog, which played right into the hands of Saban's bruising running attack.
"The offensive line did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage, and the runners did a good job of running the ball," Saban said. "I thought it was important for them to be able to do that especially with the weather being what it was."
Arkansas backup quarterback Brandon Allen did the best he could. But with Alabama's linebackers keying on Knile Davis, Allen was forced to throw, often on the run.
The few times Allen had time to throw, the coverage was too good and the weather too bad for him to do much. He had one interception when the ball slipped and sailed on him, and a second that went through the arms of an intended his receiver and into the hands of Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That led to an easy rushing touchdown for Eddie Lacy and a Tide 24-0 lead with 3:01 left in the first half.
At that point it was over.
All the forces of nature aligned with Alabama. But that's not to say it was lucky. Teams don’t win 52-0 with four-leaf clovers. The way the Tide dominated the lines of scrimmage, it's doubtful the Hogs would have stood a chance with a healthy QB and sunny skies.
But it might have been a better game, the kind Saban prepared his team to play.
"I told our guys that Arkansas' quarterback situation was not our problem," Saban said. "Our problem was ourselves. ... We've been fighting with this group since the Michigan game on allowing ourselves to accept average. I think we started the game a little average today, but as we got into the game we got better, especially offensively. This group has to continue to challenge themselves and demand more.
"We had way too many penalties today (seven for 74 yards). That's something that will kill you in a close game. It cost us some field position. We still have some issues in pass protection. Those are the things you have to clean up."
How difficult is it to keep a team focused when you're average margin of victory through three games is 38 points.
"It's not about the next game," Saban snapped. "It's about getting the team better."
If this team gets much better, everyone else will be playing for second place no matter how the breaks fall.