TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It took until the year after Mike Shula was fired as Alabama’s head football coach for a Crimson Tide quarterback to match his comeback heroics.
John Parker Wilson drove Alabama 73 yards in little more than two minutes, all with no timeouts, for the game-winning touchdown in a 41-38 victory over Arkansas on Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Wilson hit a leaping Matt Caddell for the game-winning score in the back of the end zone with eight seconds remaining, spoiling a 21-point Arkansas comeback and keeping the Crimson Tide, now coached by Nick Saban, undefeated on the season at 3-0 (2-0 Southeastern Conference).
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"Tremendous victory for the University of Alabama, tremendous victory for our players and our fans," Saban said. "The players are really happy. It’s the happiest I’ve seen these guys in the locker-room after the game. I hope we made a lot of people in the state of Alabama happy today."
Wilson’s final-drive effort mirrored what Shula did twice in his senior playing season of 1985, against Georgia in a 20-16 victory in Athens and against Auburn in a 25-23 Iron Bowl victory. Shula connected with Al Bell for the game-winning TD pass in the former, and drove the Tide downfield with no timeouts to set up Van Tiffin’s famous 52-yard field goal in the latter.
Even Tiffin’s son was on-hand for this one, connecting for two field goals and four extra points. His final kick put the exclamation point on Alabama’s first fourth-quarter comeback win in seven years.
Alabama was 0-for-19 when trailing in the fourth quarter under Shula, who was fired at the end of the 2006 regular season. The Tide’s last fourth-quarter comeback win came under Dennis Franchione in the 2001 Independence Bowl, a 14-13 victory over Iowa State.
"We just kept moving, didn’t turn it over, didn’t get sacked," Wilson said. "Then we came up with the big play at the end."
Wilson was 7-for-9 on the final drive, including four connections for 43 yards to Caddell, a little-used senior who had just 46 career catches coming into Saturday. He ended the day with nine receptions for 91 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
Alabama got the benefit of two pass interference penalties by Arkansas (1-1, 0-1), including one on third-and-9 from the Arkansas 28. After the penalty moved the ball to the 13, Wilson hit Keith Brown for nine yards to the 4, then Mike McCoy had the next pass go off his hands at the goal line.
On third-and-1 from the 4, Wilson faded to his right and lofted the ball into the back of the end zone, where the 5-foot-11 Caddell out-jumped Love for the game-winning score. The touchdown — and Arkansas’ ensuing failed razzle-dazzle play — set off a frenzy among the sellout crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium, which hasn’t seen a comeback win of similar fashion since the Crimson Tide beat Georgia 29-28 on a last-minute field goal in 1994.
"It still hasn’t hit me yet," Caddell said. "I’m still recovering from all the guys jumping on me in the end zone. It’s just great man, a great team victory."
Alabama led 21-0 late in the first quarter and 31-10 midway through the third quarter, before Arkansas stormed back behind All-American running back Darren McFadden. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior, the Heisman Trophy runner-up last season, ended the night with 195 yards and two scores.
The Crimson Tide helped the Razorbacks’ comeback as well, turning the ball over on consecutive possessions late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. Wilson fumbled the ball away on the former, and threw a first-play interception on the latter.
Arkansas capitalized both times, getting McFadden’s 1-yard TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 31-24 and a 5-yard jaunt by McFadden little more than two minutes later to tie the game at 31.
After Alabama went 3-and-out, Arkansas went right down and scored again its next time out, with Casey Dick hitting Peyton Hillis with a 7-yard scoring pass to make it 38-31 with 8:08 remaining.
Alabama got Tiffin’s 42-yard field goal with 4:20 remaining, then forced an Arkansas punt with 2:13 to play. McFadden was on the sideline during that possession with a slight concussion.
Wilson and Caddell took over from there, driving to the winning score in just 2:05. Wilson finished the day 24-for-45 for 327 yards and four touchdowns, setting career high for yards and touchdowns.
His four touchdowns were one of Gary Hollingsworth’s school record of five set against Ole Miss in 1989. Shula also had four against Memphis State in 1985.
Before being slowed by an injured quad muscle, Hall set a career high with 172 yards on six receptions. He had touchdown catches of 9 and 35 yards from Wilson in the first quarter.
Glen Coffee also added a 14-yard touchdown run in the first, helping Alabama build its 21-0 lead. Arkansas came back to get a 40-yard TD pass from Dick to Crosby Tuck and a 22-yard Alex Tejada field goal to make it 21-10 at the half.
Tiffin hit a 24-yard field goal and Wilson connected with Nick Walker on a 3-yard score to make it 31-10 Alabama with 5:15 to play. Arkansas got its first touchdown of the second half on a 2-yard pass from Dick — who threw for 145 yards and three scores — to Andrew Davie with 3:05 to play in the third.