It’s now been 5,582 days since Arkansas has beaten an Alabama football team and 7,246 since the Razorback program has taken down a Nick Saban-coached one.
But there was some concern on Saban’s part and hope for the 75,000-plus Razorback fans in attendance in the third quarter on Saturday when Arkansas cut what was once a 28-0 deficit down to 28-23.
Alabama lost quarterback and 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young to a second quarter injury, had a bad punt snap that resulted in an ensuing Arkansas touchdown that cut it to 5 and was clearly wobbling.
But three 70-plus runs by the visiting Crimson Tide in the fourth quarter removed any doubt in what turned into a 49-26 win before 75,579 fans.
“Obviously this is a really good win for our team,” Saban said. “I thought one of the messages that we tried to give the team was you have to maintain your intensity in the game for 60 minutes in the game, regardless of what the score is.
“…I don’t think we did that. We didn’t maintain our intensity. We let them get back in the game at one point.
“…There’s a lot to learn but it’s also an SEC road game against a good team. I was proud of the way our guys competed. Thought we came out and played great in the beginning of the game.”
Alabama linebacker Will Anderson, regarded as the nation’s top defensive player, thought the Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0) weathered the storm.
“We had to keep ourselves calm,” Anderson said. “We can’t lose focus on what we have to do. We can’t let any external factors like the crowd or the time or the scoreboard affect us. Coach Saban harps about that a lot.
“We have to keep playing no matter what the score is or what the outcome is… just keep playing until you get off the field.”
The Razorbacks went for the two-point conversion to try and cut it to 28-25, but Anderson stopped Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson.
“It was really big,” Anderson said. “It just goes back to everyone being locked in and everyone being on the same page. Everyone getting the call and executing the call and the goal to get us in.
“He (Jefferson) is so hard to bring down and a great player. He is someone I wish the best to and he is going to have a great career.”
The first one of those fourth quarter dashes was a 77-yard run by back up quarterback Jalen Mil-roe that set up Jase McClellan’s 3-yard scoring dash.
“It stopped the bleeding for sure because that was third-and-long in bad field position,” Saban said. “That was a huge momentum swing in the game, in my opinion. After that, we played better. After that, I think they didn’t play as well.”
Milroe rushed 6 times for 91 yards and completed 4 of 9 passing for 65 yards filling in for Young.
“The biggest thing was preparing all wek, whenever the time was right, I want to give all thanks to God for the moment,” Milroe said. “My teammates made it much easier just being around those guys. The offensive line talking to me, receivers, running backs, offensive staff, all the guys as a whole made the job much easier.”
He also handed off to Jahmyr Gibbs (18 carries for 207 yards, 2 TDs), who had scoring runs of 72 and 76 in the final quarter.
“The long runs Jahmyr made were really well blocked,” Saban said. “He’s really really good at that.”
Saban credited Milroe for playing to his strengths.
“There’s only one Bryce Young in this country,” Saban said. “He’s a great player. Jalen can do what Jalen does well and we have confidence in him. We have confidence in the development of Ty Simpson as his backup.
“Hopefully Bryce will be OK. I think the offense did a really good job of continuing to score points in a different way than when Bryce plays. You got to have that kind of diversity on your team.”
Young threw an interception on his team’s first possession of the day, but rebounded to complete 7 of 12 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown and also rushing for an 8-yard score in the opening quarter.
He helped the Crimson Tide to a 201-38 total offense advantage and a 14-0 lea on a day when the Arkansas would finish with 377.
“Bryce does a good job of reading the coverage,” Saban said. “We didn’t know how they would play us going into this game. They’ve been playing four down (linemen) quite a bit, seven guys in coverage. They started out the game playing three down, six DBs right off the bat.
“It was a little tougher for him because of a lot of eight drops and they have a really good blitz package.
“… He got us in the right protection every time so we could block their blitzes which was critical. Now there were a couple of times in man-to-man we didn’t protect him very well, just like on the play he got injured on.
“They were playing man-to-man, we didn’t have anybody to throw the ball to. He should’ve thrown the ball away. We were in field goal range and not taking the chance of getting hurt. But he really kind of fell on his shoulder, that’s the issue.”
It is an injury that Young has suffered before per Saban, whose team still had 555 yards of total offense despite having a minus-1 yard effort in the third quarter.
”Bryce has a little AC sprain in his shoulder,” Saban said. “We’ll have to take it day-to-day. I think he’s OK. He doesn’t have a serious injury.
“We didn’t think he could go back in the game because I don’t think he had much steam on throwing the ball. He’s had these before and in a few days, he starts to respond pretty well. We’ll have to see how it goes.”
Asked what his team might do different next week against Texas A&M if Young was still out, Saban joked about Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher, who he had a heated exchange this summer about NIL.
“I was gonna call Jimbo (Fisher) afterwards and tell him exactly what we’re gonna do,” Saban joked. “If he can hear it in the press conference then I don’t have to call him.”