FAYETTEVILLE — No. 2 Alabama jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first half on Saturday before No. 20 Arkansas rallied to pull within 28-23 before the Tide took a 49-26 win before 75,579 fans in Razorback Stadium.
The crowd was the fifth-largest one ever at Razorback Stadium. The crowd did their part staying for the second half even though the Hogs were down 28-7 at intermission. The Hogs reversed their fortunes in the third quarter, which has been a terrible one for them all season, and outscored the Tide 16-0 in the first 15 minutes after halftime. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and it seemed everything was going Arkansas’ way heading into the fourth quarter.
The play of the game came with Alabama facing a third-and-15 play at its own 20 on the second play of the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Jalen Milroe appeared contained, but then broke free for a 77 yard run to the Arkansas 3-yard line. Running back Jase McClellan scored on a second-and-goal play from the three and Alabama went up 35-23. Pittman gave some specifics on the play by Milroe that turned the game back in the Tide’s favor.
“That was a third and 14 and I think it went 77 yards on that run,” Pittman said. “We had a man blitz on and about got to him and he got outside of it and then we couldn’t catch him. He got down to on about the [3-yard line]. It was a great play by him but that certainly if a, woulda, coulda, all that, if we had got him down there it would have been interesting to see what happened because we did have all the momentum at that point.”
Alabama then scored on its next two possessions to ice the game. Jahmyr Gibbs scored on a 72-yard run with 12:29 remaining in the game. After Cam Little booted a 34-yard field goal, Gibbs then broke free for a 76-yard touchdown to set the final margin of victory. Pittman talked about the slow start to the game.
“Well obviously we came out extremely slow on both sides of the ball,” Pittman said. “I thought our defense played – you know we just couldn’t get them off the field – and they had two really long pass plays. And a lot of times it was on third and long. The play in the fourth quarter the quarterback made was third and 14 and we just gave up way too many big plays. The only really positive of the day to be honest with you is we came out in the third quarter and fought. We scored right before the half to make it 28-7 and fought. But there were too many errors, poor tackling, didn’t particularly protect well, throw it well, catch it well. Just they are a good football team and they made us look bad at times.”
Arkansas’ first touchdown came with 21 seconds remaining in the first half. KJ Jefferson found wide receiver Ketron Jackson for a six-yard touchdown pass. It was a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took 1 minute, 53 seconds and seemed to breathe some life into a stagnant offense to that point. Pittman hoped that touchdown would give the Hogs momentum for the second half.
“I thought it did,” Pittman said. “And all I wanted to do was compete and fight and you know scratch our way back into the game and we certainly did- 28-23 I think with just a few seconds left in the third quarter and things were going our way but the big plays by them just crushed us and we couldn’t answer them.”
Arkansas got the ball to start the second half, but couldn’t do much with it. They punted, but then forced an Alabama punt as well. The Razorbacks had a first-and-10 at its own 22. They marched down the field with a seven-play, 78-yard drive that ended with running back AJ Green scampering 13 yards for a touchdown. Little’s PAT brought the Hogs to within 28-14 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter.
Jake Bates then perfectly executed an onside kick that seemed to take the Tide by surprise. Arkansas recovered and had a first down at its own 46. The Hogs moved the football with runs from Jefferson and Rocket Sanders and receptions by Jackson and Jadon Haselwood. Arkansas had a first-and-goal at the Alabama five, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Little. That pulled the Hogs to within 28-17 with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter.
Disaster struck again for the Tide late in the third quarter. Arkansas held Alabama forcing a punt and the snap to punter James Burnip was a bad one. Burnip chased the bad snap back to his own three and fell on it giving Arkansas a first down at that spot.
It took the Hogs one play to score as Sanders ran for three yards. The Hogs elected to go for two and a Jefferson run was denied. But with 19 seconds left in the third quarter it appeared the Hogs were in a great position to break the losing skid that stretches back to 2006.
But a 21-3 fourth quarter in favor Alabama (5-0, 2-0) allowed the streak to live on for at least another season. Arkansas (3-2, 1-2) now travels to Starkville to face a tough Mississippi State squad. The Bulldogs routed Texas A&M 42-24 on Saturday in Starkville. Mississippi State (4-1, 1-1) and Coach Mike Leach will be looking for their first win over a Pittman-coached team at Arkansas.
“We’ve lost two in a row and last year we lost three in a row at one point then reeled off four of the next five with one of the losses being to Alabama,” Pittman said. “We lost to a good team today. We did. We did not particularly play well. Part of it is they played well. But you know the season has seven games left, there’s a lot of really good things that can happen in our season for us and we’ve got to get on a winning track. So coming back Monday we’re going to go back to work and go practice just like we did at this point last year when we lost three in a row.”
Saturday’s game in Starkville will kickoff at 11 a.m. and televised on the SEC Network.