INSTANT ANALYSIS: Alabama runs past Arkansas
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was a happy homecoming for No. 1 Alabama as a return home to Bryant-Denny Stadium resulted in a return to the Crimson Tide’s dominant performance in SEC play. Alabama had no trouble putting away Arkansas on Saturday night, blowing out the Razorbacks 41-9.
Running back Damien Harris led the way for Alabama (7-0, 4-0 in the SEC), carrying the ball nine times for 125 yards and two touchdowns. The 100-yard performance marked the first time the junior has rushed for 100 or more yards in back-to-back games in his career. Harris led Alabama with 124 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground against Texas A&M. Alabama finished with 496 total yards, including 308 on the ground
The victory marks Alabama’s 11th straight win over Arkansas (2-4, 0-3) and gives head coach Nick Saban a perfect 11-0 record against the Razorbacks.
Here’s how Alabama was able to pull off the win Saturday:
Another fast start
It took all of 15 seconds for Harris to set the tone Saturday night as he took the first play from scrimmage 75 yards for a touchdown. On the play, the junior running back took a handoff out of the shotgun before finding a gaping hole in the right side of the line. From there, he cut across the field before turning on the jets to put Alabama on the board.
The touchdown marks the second straight game Harris recorded a 75-yard touchdown run. In last week’s game against Texas A&M, he took the first play of Alabama’s second offensive drive 75 yards to give the Tide its first touchdown. Both runs are tied for the longest touchdown runs of Harris’ career.
Alabama scored on its first play from scrimmage for the fifth time in the Nick Saban era. Previous first-play scorers for the Tide under Saban were Amari Cooper on an 80-yard pass from Blake Sims on Oct. 25, 2014; Kenyan Drake on an 87-yard touchdown pass from Sims against Florida on Sept. 20, 2014; Mark Ingram on a 48-yard touchdown run at Duke on Sept. 18, 2010 and Terry Grant on a 47-yard run against Western Carolina in Saban’s first game at Alabama on Sept. 1, 2007. The touchdown runs by Harris, Ingram and Grant all occurred on the first play of the game. Cooper and Drake’s scores were on the first play of Alabama’s first possession in each game.
After holding Arkansas to a three-and-out on its first possession, the Tide wasted no time going for the kill. A botched punt attempt by Blake Johnson gave Alabama the ball at the Razorbacks 25-yard line, ultimately setting up a 39-yard field goal from Tide kicker Andy Pappanastos.
Alabama’s forced another three-and-out on Arkansas’ next possession. After starting from its own 35-yard line the Tide drove down 65 yards on eight plays capped off by a 4-yard touchdown run to give Alabama a 17-0 lead with 7:24 left in the first quarter and all but put the game to bed.
Saturday was the third time this season Alabama scored on its first three offensive possessions. The Tide also accomplished the feat against Fresno State and Colorado State.
Not this time
The last time Arkansas beat Alabama it did so with a freshman quarterback, as Mitch Mustain started behind center in a 24-23 overtime win for the Razorbacks in 2006. Saturday, Arkansas didn’t have as much luck.
Filling in for injured starter Austin Allen, redshirt freshman Cole Kelley had an up-and-down night. The 6-foot-7 quarterback finished the game completing 23 of 42 for 200 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Kelley had his moments, driving Arkansas down the field late in the first half where he completed 4 of 6 passes for 74 yards to bring the Razorbacks down to the Alabama 3-yard line. Down 24-0 with three seconds left in the half Arkansas elected to take a shot in the end zone instead of attempting a field goal. However, Kelley’s pass was broken up by Ronnie Harrison in the end zone, sending Arkansas into the half with nothing to show for its efforts.
Kelley was able to hit receiver Jordan Jones for a 3-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal late in the fourth quarter to give the Razorbacks their only touchdown of the night.
To be fair to Kelley, Mustain put up much worse numbers 11 years ago. Mustain completed just 7 of 22 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions in his lone career game against the Tide. However, a strong Arkansas rushing game paired with three missed field goals and a missed extra point by Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin helped the Razorbacks escape pull out the victory in Fayetteville, Ark.
Punt return problems
There’s one thing Saban looks for more than anything else in his punt returners — an ability to catch the ball. Saturday, that proved to be harder than it looked for Alabama’s returners.
Freshman Henry Ruggs III earned punt return duties to start the game as regular starter Trevon Diggs was making his return from a foot injury he suffered two weeks ago against Ole Miss. Ruggs bobbled his second punt return of the night but was able to fall on the ball. His next mistake wouldn’t go unpunished. On his next return, the freshman let the ball go through his hands, allowing Arkansas defensive back Ryder Lucas to fall on it at the Alabama 32-yard line.
Ruggs was replaced by Diggs but to little avail. The sophomore bobbled his first return of the game but was able to fall on the ball. Even when Alabama did catch the ball, it continued to inflict self-punishment on itself. On the following punt return, Alabama was flagged for an illegal block, backing them up 10 yards.
In one of Alabama’s most unusual stats, Ruggs has as many touchdowns as he does receptions this season. The freshman receiver pulled in a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jalen Hurts in the third quarter four his fourth career reception and fourth career touchdown.
Ruggs, a former four-star recruit, has 52 yards on his four receptions and leads the team in receiving touchdowns. Interestingly enough, he is not the only Alabama with a perfect streak. Tight end Hale Hentges has two receptions for 26 yards and two touchdowns.
1992 championship team honored
Not even a heart attack could keep Gene Stallings from making his way onto the field along with other members of the championship team he coached 25 years ago. Stallings, 82, suffered a heart attack two weeks ago but was in good spirits Saturday as he was recognized with the rest of Alabama’s 1992 national title team.
Stallings, who served as Alabama’s head coach from 1990-96, led the Tide to a 13-0 record in the 1992 season, including a 34-13 win over Miami in the Sugar Bowl to clinch Alabama’s 12th national championship. The 1992 team also won the first-ever SEC Championship Game, defeating Florida 28-21 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. It’s defense held opponents to 9.38 points per game is regarded as one of the Tide’s best ever units.
Defensive back George Teague and receiver Prince Wimbley were recognized as honorary team captains Saturday.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was also one of the former players recognized at the ceremony. A former walk-on receiver, Swinney earned a scholarship at Alabama from 1990-92. He later served as a graduate assistant under Stallings from 1993-95 before coaching wide receivers and tight ends from 1996-2000. He was able to attend due to No. 2 Clemson playing at Syracuse on Friday night. The Tigers were upset 27-24 by the Orange.