FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Nick Saban told Alabama’s defense to prepare for whatever Arkansas’ offense might have to offer, Tyler Wilson or not.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide heeded its coach’s advice well Saturday, suffocating a Wilson-less Razorbacks team in a 52-0 win.
Eddie Lacy ran for three touchdowns, and Alabama (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) forced five turnovers in the school’s 21-straight win to open conference play.
The shutout was the second straight for the Crimson Tide, which defeated Western Kentucky 35-0 last week. The last time Alabama, which has now forced 12 turnovers this season, had back-to-back shutouts was against Vanderbilt and Kentucky in 1980.
The latest example of Crimson Tide dominance came at the expense of a suddenly reeling Arkansas (1-2, 0-1), which followed last week’s shocking loss to Louisiana-Monroe with the school’s worst defeat since a 70-17 loss to Southern California in 2005.
The Razorbacks played without Wilson, who suffered a head injury last week — and whose availability was in question until moments before kickoff. With or without Wilson, last season’s first-team All-SEC quarterback, Alabama was ready.
“We told our players that their quarterback situation was not our problem, it was theirs,” Saban said. “And regardless of who played that we would have to play well if Tyler (Wilson) played, and we got ready for all the things that they did.”
AJ McCarron was 11 of 16 passing for 189 yards and a touchdown for the Crimson Tide, but it was the defense that set the tone from the outset.
Vinnie Sunseri and Haha Clinton-Dix each had first-half interceptions for Alabama, which held Arkansas to just 44 yards of total offense in the first half and 137 for the game.
The loss was the first shutout for the Razorbacks since a 28-0 loss to LSU in 2005. It was also the first time Arkansas was held scoreless in Razorback Stadium since a 7-0 loss to Baylor in 1966.
With a minute left in the game, Wilson asked to speak afterward with the media — breaking with the school’s usual policy of not letting injured players talk. The senior had plenty to say about a team whose season appears to be slipping away — six months after former coach Bobby Petrino was fired and only three games into what was expected to be a championship season.
“Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Absolutely,” Wilson said. “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 jump off the bandwagon, and it is my job to keep everyone in this organization and this team in that locker room together. I am going to make sure of that going forward.”
Arkansas had little of Wilson’s conviction without its leader on Saturday.
Lacy had two touchdowns in the first half, helping Alabama to a 24-0 halftime lead. His 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter put the Crimson Tide up 31-0, and he finished with 55 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Kenyan Drake, TJ Yeldon and Blake Sims also added touchdown runs in the blowout, a far different game than when the Crimson Tide struggled at times offensively in last week’s win over Western Kentucky.
Alabama allowed six sacks of McCarron in that win, but none against the Razorbacks — gaining 438 yards of total offense and adding to a growing resume that includes a season-opening throttling of Michigan.
“We’re just trying to make our identity, and I think we started making that identity today,” Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard said. “We’re a physical team, and that’s what we like to make everybody think we are.”
Wilson’s availability for the game was the subject of much speculation throughout the week. He missed the second half of Arkansas’ shocking overtime loss to the Warhawks last week, and Razorbacks coach John L. Smith was noticeably vague about the status of his potential first-round NFL draft choice passer.
The mystery continued prior to the game, though Smith later admitted he knew early in the week that Wilson likely wouldn’t be able to play. Wilson went through warmups in full uniform with his teammates, and he took part in the pregame coin toss as one of Arkansas’ captains.
Moments later, Wilson’s role as a decoy became clear when he put on a baseball cap and headset.
The Razorbacks, who led the SEC in scoring and total offense last season, tried a little bit of everything to hold their own against the Alabama defense. They used both redshirt freshman Brandon Allen and junior Brandon Mitchell at quarterback, mixed in some option and attempted an early lateral and throwback pass.
Nothing worked against the Crimson Tide, which extended its shutout streak to nine quarters in the win.
The loss was Arkansas’ first in Razorback Stadium since a fourth-quarter lead slipped away against Alabama two years ago. The 137 yards of total offense was its worst since a 139-yard effort in a 31-3 loss to Georgia in the 2002 SEC championship game.
Arkansas, which has led the SEC in passing offense the last three seasons, was held to just 79 yards through the air by Alabama. Allen was 10 of 18 passing for 60 yards, while Mitchell was 1 of 7 passing for 19 yards.
“It’s kind of hard to say anything at this point,” Smith said. “That’s about as bad as I can ever remember this football team … special teams to the offense to the defense, all the way through.”