Defense propels No. 8 Alabama to 27-14 win over Arkansas
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) Reggie Ragland and Alabama’s swarming defense delivered crushing hits and big plays.
Eventually, the offense struck, too.
Calvin Ridley caught an 81-yard touchdown pass from Jake Coker late in the third quarter and No. 8 Alabama rode the defense to a 27-14 win over Arkansas on Saturday night after trailing at halftime.
”This is when you find out who you are and how bad you want to do what you want to do,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. ”The guys came out and responded really well in the second half. The big play from Jake to Calvin was a momentum changer in the game.
”From that time on we dominated pretty well until they hit the scramble pass at the end.”
Stymied by early mistakes, the Tide (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) scored 24 points over the final 17 minutes after trailing at halftime. The Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2) couldn’t do more than flirt with the upset despite two interceptions and a pair of missed Alabama field goals.
The Tide held Alex Collins to 26 rushing yards and added three sacks and an interception.
”They’re a strong, physical team and any time you’ve got to do that against a team like that, you’ve got to be grown men and physical,” said Ragland, Alabama’s hard-hitting linebacker. ”My team did that.”
Coker was twice intercepted on deep balls in the first half but finished 24 of 33 for 262 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Derrick Henry ran for 95 yards on 27 carries and set an Alabama record late with a touchdown in his 11th consecutive game.
The Razorbacks had allowed just 15 fourth-quarter points in their first five games.
Ragland had a sack, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble to go with eight tackles.
”Offensively, the story of the day was we just couldn’t do anything with any consistency,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. ”Couldn’t run it, couldn’t throw it, couldn’t convert the third downs the way we needed to and that ended up forcing the hand on a couple of other issues.”
Alabama’s defense had a little swagger during and after the game.
”We are the best defense in the country, hands down,” said safety Eddie Jackson.
Alabama has won nine straight games against the Razorbacks and six in a row at home.
This one didn’t come without nearly three quarters’ worth of anxious moments.
Alabama’s offense – and Bryant-Denny Stadium – finally came to life with one bomb dialed in by Lane Kiffin. That started a 17-point flurry over a 6-minute, 32-second span for an offense that had been repeatedly turned away shy of the end zone.
Coker hit a wide-open Ridley, yards behind the nearest defender, with 1:39 left in the third quarter. The freshman receiver had caught two long passes a week ago against Georgia in a breakout performance and topped that. He had 140 yards on nine catches.
Then Bielema tried to keep his offense on the field with a fake punt from their own territory. Alabama stopped it well short, and scored again.
”A big play in the game was stopping their little fake punt thing, which we knew they had,” Saban said. ”We told them to watch out for it.”
Alabama got a third-down defensive holding call and a 15-yard scramble from Coker. Then Coker hit Richard Mullaney for a 3-yard touchdown on a play-action pass for a 17-7 lead.
Jackson picked off Brandon Allen and returned it 20 yards to set up Henry’s record-setting score. Allen added a long touchdown pass to Dominique Reed to improve his numbers to 176 yards on 15 of 32 passing.
The Razorbacks gained just 44 yards on the ground after racking up 275 in a win over Tennessee behind Collins’ third straight effort of 150-plus yards.
The win set up a Tide road showdown with No. 9 Texas A&M, which had an open date to prepare.
The Razorbacks didn’t see the same dominating all-around effort Alabama produced in a romp at No. 19 Georgia but the Ragland-led defense held up its end.