Slick offense, tight defense lift Tide
Greg McElroy and No. 3 Alabama borrowed a page from Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino's playbook - and a few from Georgia's, too - with stellar results in Saturday's 35-7 romp over the Razorbacks.
The Crimson Tide defense prevented Ryan Mallett and the Razorbacks from turning the game into another high-scoring affair.
McElroy passed for a career-high 291 yards and three touchdowns and the Tide (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) picked on the Razorbacks' beleaguered defense with three plays of 50-plus yards, including an 80-yarder to Marquis Maze that was one of the longest pass plays in school history.
"We saw that Georgia made explosive plays," said McElroy, referring to the Razorbacks' 52-41 loss a week earlier. "We actually put in a few plays that Georgia ran. The deep ball to Maze was a play Georgia ran. We saw what we could exploit."
'Bama also blocked a punt in winning its 18th consecutive league opener dating to its 1992 national championship season.
A relentless defense hounded Mallett and the nation's No. 2 offense. Mallett was 12-for-35 for 161 yards for Arkansas (1-2, 0-2) and threw his first interception.
Trent Richardson broke four tackles for a 52-yard touchdown run, Julio Jones caught a 50-yard TD pass on a trick play and McElroy hit Maze for the even longer play.
The Tide managed to avoid the troubles of its two top 10 SEC West rivals. No. 4 Mississippi lost to South Carolina and No. 7 LSU barely escaped Mississippi State with a victory.
Bama, meanwhile, coasted to another easy win, dominating its last three games by a collective 100 points. But star linebacker Dont'a Hightower left with a knee injury late in the first quarter and coach Nick Saban said "the initial prognosis is not good." Hightower will be evaluated on Sunday.
"I hate to see any player get hurt, ever, but that one there is a good one," Saban said.
Arkansas scored on its opening drive of the second half to cut the deficit to 14-7 on Mallett's 18-yard touchdown pass to Greg Childs, but the momentum was short-lived.
McElroy hit a streaking Maze down the right sideline on the next play to halt that comeback for the school's sixth-longest pass play and the nation's No. 3 defense didn't allow any more chances. McElroy was 17-of-24 passing and Alabama rolled up 425 total yards.
Petrino's Arkansas offense managed just 254 yards after coming in averaging 538 a game and scoring 41 even in defeat against Georgia. Alabama had eight tackles for loss.
"I just thought we didn't play the way we're capable of playing," Petrino said. "That's on me. I didn't get them to believe we could come in here and win the game."
The nation's most efficient passer, Mallett didn't get much time to uncork his powerful arm. He was sacked three times - twice on corner blitzes by Javier Arenas.
"We were trying to make the quarterback as uncomfortable as possible," Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus said.
Mallett was also intercepted when a pass bounced off his receiver into the hands of Justin Woodall in the fourth quarter.
"They didn't confuse us, but they brought pressure," Mallett said. "They brought some pressures that we hadn't seen."
Alabama was the one producing the big plays Mallett and the Razorbacks had been piling up.
"It hurts when you look up and see the ball is thrown over your head and it goes for a touchdown," Arkansas defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard said. "It hits you in your stomach and the thing is, there is nothing you can do about it."
Richardson broke a scoreless tie when he shed two tacklers behind the line, shook off a couple more, then sprinted down the right sideline for the long touchdown midway through the second quarter.
Then Jones, who sat out last weekend's game against North Texas with a bruised right knee, caught his first touchdown pass in 12 games. Mark Ingram took the snap out of the Wildcat formation and handed it to Terry Grant, who pitched back to McElroy. Jones was so wide open downfield he had to turn around and wait for the ball.
"We knew he was going to be very open," McElroy said. "It was a pivotal moment in the game."